Raising Smoking Age to 18 “Modestly Useful” – but no Substitute for Comprehensive Workplace Smoking Law

Thursday 08 December 2005

Media Release:  For Immediate Use, Thursday 8th December 2005   



Raising Smoking Age to 18 “Modestly Useful” – but no Substitute for Comprehensive Workplace Smoking Law


The Government is to consult next year on a proposal to raise the legal age for buying tobacco in England from 16 to cigarettes to 18.  Public Health Minister Caroline Flint announced the move today during the Committee Stage of the Health Bill.

The public health lobby is likely to back the move. But ASH believes it may make at best only a small contribution to cutting smoking rates among young people and the general population – far less than would be achieved by a comprehensive law ending smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places. Under proposals contained in the current Bill, the Government plans to allow pubs that do not sell food and private membership clubs to opt out of a ban.

Office of National Statistics survey evidence shows that in 2004 9% of 11 to 15 year olds smoked regularly, and 21% of 15 year olds (26% of girls and 16% of boys). This is despite the fact that the legal buying age is currently 16. There are only around 100 to 150 prosecutions for underage sales in England and Wales each year.

The Government faces a growing backbench revolt over its plans to exempt many pubs and clubs. 93 MPs have now signed Early Day Motion 888, calling for a free vote on the issue. 63 of the signatories are Labour MPs. 52 Labour MPs have signed EDM 833 calling for a comprehensive ban in all workplaces and enclosed public places. The Health Select Committee will report shortly and is likely to call for comprehensive smokefree legislation. Plans to raise the legal buying age were trailed by Government advisers in last Sunday’s newspapers, and Labour MPs are being asked to drop their support for comprehensive legislation in return for this “concession”.

Commenting, Ian Willmore of Action on Smoking and Health, said:

“This could be a modestly useful step. But the evidence shows clearly that the biggest factor encouraging young people to start smoking is that they see it as an adult activity. The fewer adults who smoke, the fewer children will start. The best way to encourage adults to quit is to stop smoking in the workplace, which will also protect workers and members of the public now being made ill by other people’s smoke.

The Government can twist and turn as much as it likes. If it does not concede the central point – a ban on smoking in all workplaces – it will face a huge and damaging Parliamentary revolt. Today’s announcement will not help them with that problem.”