Man smokes next to a no-21 sign.

UK To Raise Smoking Age Limit

The UK government is publishing a review today that could lead to the smoking age being raised

Originally we understood this was to involve an increase in the age limit to 21. Information released today shows a more radical approach – increasing the age limit by one year, ever year, as has already been done in New Zealand.

Previous reports suggested that vaping would be included in this age limit rise, which we argued against. This now appears to have been dropped – possibly because Savid Javid sees vaping as instrumental in achieving the UK’s smoke-free goals. 

What will the impact on the vape industry be?

The UK government is currently behind in its goal to be effectively Smoke Free by 2030. (By ‘Smoke Free’ the government means less than 5%, which some in Public Health believe would allow cigarettes to be banned.)

The impact could be positive for the vape industry if young smokers chose to use reduced harm alternatives to cigarettes. Still, it’s worth remembering that cigarettes – along with drugs and alcohol – remain readily available for people under 18. Most people start smoking when they are children, before they are legally allowed to vape. 

Bans on nicotine products also often fail. Just last week we looked at the failure of a vape ban in Australia. Meanwhile in Bhutan, where smoking is banned for everyone, the health minister admitted she wasn’t sure the number of smokers had reduced – even while decrying the black market they had created with the ban. 

It’s also worth remembering the impact of the UK ban on menthol cigarettes. When these were banned, many in the vape industry (including myself) thought that there would be an increase in the sale of menthol e-liquid. In reality, the impact was tiny. 

The New Nicotine Alliance have previously argued that smokers should not be coerced into trying vaping. Perhaps they are right. Vaping originally grew in popularity without government assistance or coercion. An option you choose is more palatable than one forced upon you. 

Where the government (via Public Health England) has helped is through information campaigns that explain the relative risks of vaping and smoking. It’s likely that innovation in vaping technology, along with continuing to communicate the relative harms of smoking, rather than restrictive regulations, is the best way to make vaping more popular and stamp out smoking. (Indeed, perhaps the most positive thing about the proposals is offering vaping as a substitute to smoking, along with clear information on the benefits of switching to smoking.)

After all, smokers know smoking is unhealthy, and they can feel the cost every time they buy a pack of cigarettes or rolling tobacco. Yet they smoke anyway. A government telling addicts they can’t smoke is unlikely to stop those addicts from smoking, especially when age restrictions didn’t stop them from taking up smoking in the past.

What it could do is deter new or casual smokers – and I sincerely hope ASH estimates it could reduce smoking rates by 30% are correct. It’s also possible that people who are inclined to use nicotine will start with vaping instead of using cigarettes. Vaping is both less addictive and less harmful than smoking, so that, at least, would be a boon for health.

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