- The study found smokers who pick up the habit before 20 find it harder to quit
- Minimum age to buy cigarettes in the UK is 18, having increased from 16 in 2007
Young people should be banned from buying tobacco products until they are 22, researchers believe.
Scientists found smokers who pick up the habit before the age of 20 find it more difficult to quit and said a rise in the minimum buying age could reduce nicotine dependence.
The study looked at 1,382 smokers who had visited a clinic in Kyoto, Japan, which helps people to quit.
Patients were split into two groups based on the age they started smoking – either less than 20 years old or 20 years and older. They all completed the Fagerstrom test for nicotine dependence, which assesses the intensity of a smoker’s physical addiction to nicotine.
The test asked questions including ‘how soon after you wake up do you smoke your first cigarette?’ and ‘how many cigarettes per day do you smoke?’, with patients giving a score for each answer.
The figure added up to a dependency score of low (one-two), low to moderate (three-four), moderate (five-seven) or high (eight or more).
Scientists found smokers who pick up the habit before the age of 20 find it more difficult to quit (Stock Image)
Some 556 smokers had started before the age of 20 – the legal age in Japan – while 826 had started later
Some 556 smokers had started before the age of 20 – the legal age in Japan – while 826 had started later.
Those who took up the habit before 20 reported smoking 25 cigarettes per day compared with 22 per day in the late-starter group.
Of the early starters, 46 per cent had successfully quit smoking, compared with 56 per cent of those who started smoking at aged 20 or over.
The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam.
Author Dr Koji Hasegawa, of the National Hospital Organisation Kyoto Medical Centre, said: ‘Starting smoking early is linked with higher nicotine dependency, even in young adulthood.
‘The study indicates that increasing the legal age to buy tobacco to 22 years or older could lead to a reduction in the number of people addicted to nicotine and at risk of adverse health consequences.’
The minimum age to buy cigarettes in the UK is 18, having increased from 16 in 2007.
It is estimated 13.3 per cent of over-18s in Britain – 6.6million people – smoked as of 2021. According to NHS England, smoking causes around 76,000 deaths per year.
In 2019, the Government unveiled its goal to make England ‘smoke free’ by 2030, meaning in effect that only 5 per cent of the population will smoke. A report called The Khan Review, published in 2022, suggests raising the legal age of smoking from 18 by one each year until no one in the country could legally buy a tobacco product.