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Experts Pass Comments on Sunak Plan

Expert reaction to the PM proposing incremental raising of smoking age in England is roundly positive with little mention of his plans for vapes

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has proposed incremental raising of the smoking age in England. Expert reaction to him proposing incremental raising of smoking age in England has been roundly positive but almost none have made comment about his plans for vapes to ban disposable vapes, restrict flavours and prohibit the use of colour in product design and packaging.

A whole list of people are quoted in the official release supporting the actions, the Chief Medical Officer, the NHS National Medical Director, and people representing several other public health bodies. All of this is predictable, but what about the academics who have been exceptionally supportive of vaping and adopting a tobacco harm reduction approach to end smoking? Well, only one alluded to the plans for vapes.

Professor Caitlin Notley, Professor of Addiction Sciences, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, said: “Incrementally raising the age of sale of tobacco products is a progressive policy that would undoubtedly impact on population level smoking prevalence, and ultimately improve rates of smoking related disease. There is a precedent, as New Zealand have adopted this policy in a similar attempt to prevent new generations of young people ever taking up tobacco smoking. Prevention is extremely important, but we must not forget that this is just one aspect of striving towards a smokefree 2030. We must also continue efforts to promote smoking cessation to adults who smoke at every opportunity, and this means using innovative ways to intervene, meeting people ‘where they are’, and sustained investment in harm reduction approaches such as the ‘swap to stop’ scheme. It is the poorest and most deprived people in our society who continue to smoke tobacco at the highest rates. Tobacco smoking is an inequalities issue, therefore we need focused and sustained efforts to help these underserved populations, as well as wider prevention approaches.”

Professor Linda Bauld was equally supportive, adding: “These proposals in England are good news for public health and the future health of the nation. New Zealand has already implemented a tobacco age of sale law similar to what is being proposed by the Prime Minister, and the New Zealand experience to date suggests this has broad public support and can be implemented. It’s important to point out that today’s announcements and the policies to follow don’t criminalise the smoker but instead puts the onus on the retailer not to sell to those underage and this is supported by new funding for enforcement.

“Some of the devil will be in the detail, however. New Zealand has a retailer licensing scheme and tobacco sale licenses can be removed with non-compliance. New Zealand is also working with retailers to completely phase out tobacco sales in most shops in the next few years, which will strengthen their policy and should be watched with interest. Perhaps the most welcome element of today’s announcements, however, is the additional funding for evidence-based local stop smoking services which provide life-saving support to smokers who want to quit, supported by mass media campaigns. Along with measures to address the recent rises in youth vaping, these announcements provide hope that we can make further progress on reducing the leading preventable cause of death and health inequalities.”

Professor Nick Hopkinson added: “Raising the legal age of sale for tobacco products is an important step to protect children and young people from getting hooked on smoking. Two out of three continuing smokers will die from a smoking-related disease. It’s one of the key measures called for in Javed Khan’s independent review Making Smoking Obsolete. It’s evidence based – we saw a fall in youth uptake of smoking in the UK when age of sale was raised from 16 to 18 in 2005, and when it was increased to 21 in the US more recently.”

Even Professor Lion Shahab didn’t mention the plans for vaping, saying: “Given the UK’s government own ambition to reduce smoking prevalence to below 5% by 2030, this most certainly is a step in the right direction. Evidence, looking at the implementation of smokefree legislation from around the world, shows that limiting access to, and use of, cigarettes (e.g., with indoor smoking bans) reduces both ill health and smoking rates.”

It was only Dr Debbie Robson, a Senior Lecturer in Tobacco Harm Reduction at King’s College London, who spoke up for vapes, saying: “Measures to drive down smoking rates across all ages are welcome…what’s less clear is the role that new restrictions on vaping will play. Like many in the sector, we have been calling for action for some time to curb the availability, access and affordability of vaping products, and measures designed to curb young people vaping are very welcome, particularly where point of display and packaging are concerned. However, it is vital that any new restrictions do not disadvantage people who have switched from smoking to vaping. If the PM truly wants to address the leading preventable cause of death, people who currently smoke need an alternative to cigarettes.”

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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