The House of Commons recently passed an amendment to the Health Bill to prohibit tobacco-selling vending machines in pubs and clubs, recognising the ease with which under-18s could, and frequently do, get their hands on a box of smokes from this avenue.
But here are two other virtually cost-free measures a future Conservative Government could take to reduce still further the far too high a number of teenagers who take up smoking every year:
1. Introduce plain packaging of tobacco products
Despite all the information on the dangers of smoking, and prominent warnings on packets, research still points to the fact that amongst our young people, smoking retains an element of allure and mystique. This is eagerly ceased by kids determined to prove their “adultness” to their peer group. Great strides have been made by the Government to stop cigarettes being advertised in magazines, at sports events and on roadside hoardings, which has gone some way to break down the link between smoking and “elegance”, “fashion” or “manliness”.
However, a consequence of this has been that tobacco companies have now refocused efforts on their package branding. One only need observe the ongoing innovations of Camel for evidence of how this last stand for tobacco marketing is being squeezed for all its worth. Introducing plain packaging then as a requirement of cigarette sales would help take yet one more element of smoking’s “coolness” out of the playground.
2. Sell cigarettes only in boxes of 20
Evidence suggests that whilst success has been made in helping people quit smoking, through such schemes as smoking cessation services offered through pharmacy, still far too many young people take up the smoking habit every year. Indeed over eight in ten current smokers say they started smoking regularly before the age of 19.
When taking up smoking, young people, invariably of more limited disposable income than adults, often opt for the 10 pack size of cigarettes as an affordable way to access tobacco. Consigning the 10 pack size of cigarettes to the dustbin of history would help to create one further barrier for young people considering taking up the smoking habit and the future problems that accompany it.
The potential cost benefits of stopping young people taking up smoking
Smoking-related illness currently cost the NHS an estimated £1.5bn a year. So taking into consideration that if elected, the next Conservative Government will serve at least a 4-year term, if these measures can bring into being even a very modest 5% decrease in smoking levels, we might crudely hope to achieve a cost saving to the NHS of £300m. Goodness knows, we’re going to need every cost saving we can get in the years ahead.
But that figure of course doesn’t begin to calculate the other social benefits that can be accrued from preventing young people from taking up smoking, such as:
- Improved family budgets in deprived communities, less constrained from feeding the smoking habit;
- The talents and monies available in the health service being redirected into other areas;
- Less productive hours lost to the workforce from individual ill health
By anybody’s Cost Benefit Ratio, that’s looking pretty good justification for the measures, is it not? What's more, the cost savings from the measures could begin to be realised now.