Plans to increase the legal age for buying tobacco to 17 or 18 were launched today by public health minister Caroline Flint.
Tougher sanctions on shopkeepers who sell cigarettes to under-age smokers are also proposed.
The current legal age for buying tobacco is 16 and has been since 1908.
Nine per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds smoke and raising the legal age “would make it easier for retailers to spot under-age smokers and lead to a fall in the number of teenagers who get addicted to nicotine,” according to the government. The move could also “reinforce the dangers of smoking to young people” and bring England and Wales into line with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US, it says.
“Someone who starts smoking aged 15 is three times more likely to die of cancer due to smoking than someone who starts in their late twenties,” said public health minister Caroline Flint.
“Access to cigarettes by under 16s is not as difficult as it should be and this is partly due to retailers selling tobacco to those under the legal age. If a particular shop is known locally as the place for children and teenagers to easily buy tobacco, we want to stop that shop selling it.
“These proposals demonstrate our determination to reduce the number of teenagers from smoking thereby reducing the number of people with preventable diseases and the incidence of health inequalities,” she added.
The plans are out for consultation until 9 October.
Those wishing to participate in the consultation should email firstname.lastname@example.org