The government has launched a consultation with a view to tightening the laws governing tobacco control.
A number of proposals – many of which have previously been supported by Cancer Research UK – are outlined in the document, entitled ‘The Future of Tobacco Control’.
Many of the proposals are designed to prevent young people from taking up smoking; these include removing branding and logos from all tobacco packaging; a ban on cigarette packets containing fewer than 20 cigarettes; and tighter restrictions on vending machines.
Other measures suggested in the consultation document include restricting the display of tobacco products in shops and banning the advertising of smoking-related equipment such as cigarette papers.
Public health minister Dawn Primarolo noted that the number of young people taking up smoking has declined; yet over 200,000 under-16s still start smoking every year and consequently treble their risk of cancer-related death.
“Despite much progress over the past ten years with 1.9 million fewer smokers since 1998, smoking it is still the biggest killer in England. The number of smokers is declining but we must do more if we are to continue to tackle a public health issue that kills ten times more people a year in England than road traffic accidents,” the minister said.
“Protecting children from smoking is a government priority and taking away temptation is one way to do this. If banning brightly coloured packets, removing cigarettes from display and removing the cheap option of a pack of ten helps save lives, then that is what we should do – but we want to hear everyone’s views first.”
In its response to the consultation, the British Medical Association (BMA) said that it is essential that we “break the tobacco trap”.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s head of science and ethics, said: “It is essential that cigarettes are made more inaccessible to children and one way to do this is to ban ten-packs of cigarettes and to get rid of tobacco vending machines.
“Young smokers will become tomorrow’s parents who smoke and they will continue the cycle of smoking-related ill health and premature death.”
A YouGov poll commissioned by campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) in February this year found that the public is largely in support of tougher action on tobacco.
Out of 1,056 adults polled, 79 per cent were in favour of restricting vending machines to age-restricted venues; 65 per cent supported a total ban on selling cigarettes from vending machines; and 59 per cent thought that the display of tobacco products in shops should be outlawed.
Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We hope the government will commit to an ambitious plan and targets for a healthier future. Two thirds of smokers start before the age of 18. We need to aim to stop today’s children from starting to smoke and becoming part of these unacceptable and wholly preventable statistics.
“Any new tobacco control plan should also aim to support current smokers, particularly people from the most disadvantaged communities who often have high rates of smoking,” he noted. “For all those that are trapped by their tobacco addiction, we hope to see more help for people who want to quit so they can succeed.”
Mr Kumar added: “Support also needs to be in place that will inspire other smokers to quit through a better understanding of the addiction and the damage it will inevitably cause to their health.”