Smoke-free England by 2030 depends on the will of No 10 | Smoking

While much has been said recently about the danger posed by soaring levels of obesity, tobacco remains the greatest public health threat the world has ever faced.

Although its risks have been known for decades, 1.3 billion people worldwide still use tobacco products. They kill 8 million people every year, and more than a million of them die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

In an effort to finally eradicate its use and eradicate the harms associated with it, many Western countries have announced bold smoke-free policies with the goal of becoming smoke-free before the end of this decade. Some go further and faster than others.

New Zealand is one of those leading the race after announcing it would ban smoking for the next generation, so those now aged 14 and under will never be able to legally buy tobacco.

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The legislation means that the legal smoking age will increase every year, to create a smoke-free generation of New Zealanders. Other measures to achieve its goal of making the country smoke-free by 2025 include: reducing the legal amount of nicotine in tobacco products to very low levels; reducing the number of stores where cigarettes can be legally sold; and increased funding for addictions services.

In England, health officials are considering drastic ways to reduce the number of smokers from the estimated total of 6 million. On Thursday, an independent study commissioned by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and led by Javed Khan, former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, will be published.

The Guardian understands the recommendations could include raising the legal smoking age to 21 and introducing new taxes on tobacco companies. The review is also likely to recommend that the NHS step up its efforts to encourage smokers, especially pregnant women, to switch to vaping and e-cigarettes.

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The minimum age to buy tobacco was last raised from 16 to 18 in England, Scotland and Wales in 2007. Smoking in public spaces and enclosed workplaces has been made illegal in England , Wales and Northern Ireland in the same year. Scotland passed legislation in 2006.

The Khan Tobacco Study was commissioned to provide the government with independent, evidence-based advice to help reduce tobacco-related inequalities. Khan was also tasked with identifying the “most effective interventions” to reduce smoking and help people quit. The government announced in 2019 its ambition to become smoke-free in England by 2030.

Some sources have suggested the review, which was commissioned in February, is a ‘political cover’ for Javid to avoid the risk of Downing Street abandoning the 2030 target, amid fears the Tories could be blamed to try to set up a “nanny state”.

David Canzini, No 10’s influential deputy chief of staff, has advised Boris Johnson to drop as many policies as possible that may be unpopular with Tory MPs or traditional Tory voters. Conservatives will also want to not lose ground gained with Red Wall voters, which they may fear losing if tough tobacco policies are suddenly thrust upon them.

Javid, who quit smoking after becoming health secretary last year, is said to be in favor of major changes in the government’s tobacco policy. He reportedly looked at policies in the United States, where the legal age is 21, as well as countries like New Zealand, and considered tightening the rules on sales.

But other cabinet members and Johnson are skeptical of raising the legal age or introducing new taxes.

Cancer Research has previously warned that England is set to miss its target of being smoke-free by 2030 because many poor people still use cigarettes. Whether or not England can meet the target will not depend on the size or form of the policies recommended on Thursday, but on the government’s willingness to implement them.

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