I’ve never smoked. Several members of my family did while they were alive and others used to but then gave up, but I never started and can’t imagine I ever will now. So the Prime Minister’s proposal to raise the age of smoking from 18 by one year every year is not something that directly affects me – and in any case I am now too old to be the target.
It is nonetheless stimulating a lot of debate. On one side some think it makes perfect sense as the negative health impact of smoking is very well proven. On the other, some say it is too draconian and that in a free society people ought to be able to make their own decisions, even if they’re ones others think are bad ones.
The facts about the harm smoking causes are certainly on the Prime Minister’s side. According to Cancer UK, smoking is the biggest cause of cancer both in the UK and worldwide. It damages the body’s cells and causes at least 15 different types of cancer, from lung and mouth cancer to cancer of the stomach, kidney, bowel and bladder.
Cancer UK advises there is no safe level of smoking and the more cigarettes you smoke the higher your risk. As the Prime Minister said, 64,000 people die as a result of smoking – it causes 1 in 4 cancer deaths and it increases the risks of stroke, heart disease, dementia and still birth. It leads to a hospital admission almost every minute and costs the NHS £17 billion a year.
Some argue that smoking is already on the decline, something the Prime Minister acknowledged in his speech when he said it is down by two thirds since the 1970s. After we raised the age you could smoke in the UK to 18, we saw the rate of smoking drop 30% among that age group. The US saw a similar, 39% decline when it raised the age to 21. But what the PM is particularly keen to tackle is people starting in the first place, which 4 in 5 people do before they’re 20.
He has therefore proposed that the Government will raise the smoking age by one year, every year so that someone who is 14 years old today will never be legally able to buy a cigarette. Alongside this, the Government will look at measures to restrict the availability of vapes for children too.
The smoking proposal will be a free vote so MPs can vote however they like. I’d like to hear your views.