People smoke cigarettes in England, just as they do in the US. Their healthcare system is different from ours, however, and this may result in England ultimately adopting a much more radical strategy to eradicate tobacco use than anything we’ve seen here. Last month, at its annual meeting of representatives, the British Medical Association (BMA) voted to pursue legislation that would ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after the year 2000. In other words, if this proposal became law, no one in the United Kingdom who is presently 14 years old or younger would ever be able to legally purchase cigarettes, at any age. The stated aim of the organization’s proposal is to completely rid England of all cigarette consumption by the year 2035.
Their spokesman, Tim Crocker-Buque, made clear that the cut-off at 14 years of age was not selected by random. In announcing the vote, he pointed out that 80 percent of smokers became addicted to nicotine in their early teens, according to the best data. Further, someone who started smoking at age 15 is three times more likely to die of smoking-related illness than someone who started in his or her mid-20s. Crocker-Buque says current trends predict that smoking will kill roughly one billion people in the 21st century. England would like to do its part to bring that estimate down, says the BMA.
It’s important to understand that the BMA has considerably more influence on the drafting and passage of legislation in the United Kingdom than the AMA, for example, does here. England employs a variant of government-provided, or “socialized” health care, through the National Health Service (NHS). Doctors are, in effect, employees of NHS, and have a role in running the entire enterprise. The BMA is a group of 560 physicians elected to represent all UK doctors for purposes of collective bargaining, policy-making, and goals/methods assessment in dealing with the NHS. Therefore, if the BMA enunciates a health policy goal as it has here, that is given considerable weight. There is a real possibility, in other words, that this policy or something like it could ultimately become law in England.
We invite your comments, via Twitter or on our Facebook page, as to whether you would support or oppose such legislation.