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Age To Buy Cigarettes In England Needs To Rise Each Year, Says Government Review

England wants to stub out its smoking habit by 2030, but they're currently way off target.


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Ashtray with cigarettes.
Every year around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking. Image credit: Kristina Arba/

England should raise the age at which people can buy cigarettes year by year, making it impossible for the children of today to ever purchase tobacco products in their lifetime, according to a new government-commissioned review.

The recommendation comes from the Khan review, a review that’s looked into whether the government is on track to achieve its ambition of making England smoke-free by 2030. (Although it's called the “smoke-free” target, this goal actually aims to see only 5 percent of the population smoking.)


Under the proposals outlined in the review, it suggests the government should increase the age of sale from 18 by one year, every year until, eventually, no one can buy tobacco products in the country. For example, by 2023, people would have to be 19-years-old to purchase tobacco products, then by 2024, people would need to be 20, and so on. 

The review found that the number of smokers in England has been dropping over the past few years, with the number reducing from 19.8 percent in 2011 to 13.9 percent in 2019. However, the country is set to miss its “smoke-free” 2030 target by at least seven years, with some poorer areas of society not achieving the target until 2044. 

There’s no promise the age-raising plan will actually be picked up by the government, but it’s one of the recommendations given by the Khan review to ramp up efforts to stub out smoking in England. Other efforts suggested by the review include pouring £125 million ($155 million) per year into high-quality support to help smokers quit and boost the promotion of vaping as an alternative to cigarettes.

“We know vapes are not a ‘silver bullet’ nor are they totally risk-free, but the alternative is far worse,” the review reads. 


Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year worldwide, including some 1.2 million deaths that are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the World Health Organization.

A number of other countries have enacted similar tobacco age phase-out policies in recent years. Last year, New Zealand revealed plans to raise the age to buy cigarettes each year, a scheme that effectively means people born after 2008 will never be allowed to buy cigarettes in their lifetime. Malaysia announced a similar plan earlier this year.

The range of proposals suggested by the new review in England has been widely supported by scientists. Commenting on the Khan review, a number of independent experts in the UK explained that the review puts forward a number of evidence-backed ways to tackle the fiddly public health problem of smoking. 

“Preventing people from taking up smoking is also a central component of the review. A small number of other countries have led the way in increasing age of sale, and to be a leader in tobacco control, it is clear that England should follow suit,” remarked Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Senior researcher in Health Behaviours at the University of Oxford and Managing Editor of the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group.


“I welcome the positive recommendation of vaping as a substitute for smoking and more importantly, providing accurate information on the benefits of switching from tobacco cigarettes to vaping. There is reasonably good quality evidence to support this move but also a lot of misinformation in this area. I hope devolved governments will take notice of these recommendations,” added Professor Jacob George, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Dundee Medical School.


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