There is a growing clamour to raise the age at which tobacco products can be bought, from 18 to 21.

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The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health put forward the idea earlier this month, and now a leading doctor, Imperial College London respiratory specialist Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, has written in the British Medical Journal arguing the case for the change.

Helping existing smokers to quit is important, says Dr Hopkinson, who also chairs the Action on Smoking and Health campaign group, but “the most vital element” is to prevent young people from starting in the first place.

“Smoking is a contagious habit, transmitted within peer groups,” he says.To back of his case, he points to the success of raising the legal age from 16 to 18, which happened in 2007.

Since then, the proportion of young smokers – defined as those aged 16 to 24 – has fallen from more than one in four in 2007 to less than one in five now, according to the Office for National Statistics.

What is behind the falling smoking rates?
But of course it is impossible to say whether that is directly linked to changing the age at which tobacco products can be bought.

In the past 12 years, there has been lots of anti-smoking legislation, including:
*a ban on smoking in public places
*restrictions on displays in shops
*the introduction of graphic images on packs warning of the dangers
of smoking
All have had a role in the overall decline in smoking.

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