Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a strategy to create a smoke-free generation has cross-party support. The Chief Medical Officer has welcomed the plan to raise the legal age of smoking every year by a year so that eventually no-one can buy tobacco.
Public Health colleagues across the country have welcomed the consultation to make vapes less attractive and accessible to children while ensuring they are still available to adult smokers looking for an alternative to their extremely harmful tobacco addiction. But what about Trading Standards, our tiny local government service responsible for enforcement of age of sale legislation, and for lots of other tobacco and vaping regulation too?
CTSI has supported an increase in age of sale for tobacco for some years. We’ve recognised that it’s a uniquely harmful product that people become addicted to at a young age, and increasing the legal age of sale would lead to a substantial reduction in smoking prevalence. We had supported a one-time jump to 21 from 18 but recognise that the latest evidence suggests a gradual increase has many benefits, eventually resulting in tobacco not being able to be legally sold. We’ll be happy to work with responsible businesses to support them making the changes to their processes — and we’ll take enforcement action against irresponsible businesses who put profit ahead of their customers’ health.
At CTSI we’ve highlighted for some time that children are accessing vapes and that they are often attracted by the brightly coloured products and packaging, and the sweet flavours. We recognise the public health benefit of these products to help smokers quit and we have asked that regulations are tightened considerably — but also considerately — rather than a simple knee-jerk response which doesn’t take account of the evidence for what does and doesn’t work.
As one of CTSI’s Lead Officers, I know it’s not going to be easy and we cannot underestimate the extra enforcement responsibilities we will have — a share of the £30m per annum will help but we’ll also need really clear legislation that is enforceable and proportionate to the harms of the products.
I also know that it’s the right thing to do. I watched my beloved dad die from lung cancer — he started smoking as a teenager when it was the normal thing to do, and gave up in his mid-50s. But by then it was too late for him — he died in his 70s after years of illness brought on by smoking. If we can support the creation of a generation where no-one has to die full of regrets for a habit that hooked them as a child, then we’re doing the right thing.