CAMPAIGNERS say raising the smoking age from 18 to 21 would see a quarter fewer smokers and urged policymakers to change the rules to reduce smoking-related illness and deaths.

Eighteen per cent of children under the age of 16 have tried smoking and 40 per cent of regular smokers began smoking before the age of 16, according to Cancer Research UK. Until 2007, British teenagers could buy cigarettes and tobacco from the age of 16.

A crossparty and crossbench group of peers has called on the Government to publish the promised new tobacco control strategy without further delay.

The call came after Lord Rennard of Wavertree (Liberal Democrat) asked what further action the Government planned to take to reduce the incidence of smoking-related diseases.

Lord Rennard raised his concern about the drop in funding for mass media campaigns to reduce smoking which fell to less than a quarter of pre-2010 levels.

In 2009-10, funding for mass media campaigns was nearly £25 million, but by 2015/16 it had been reduced to £5.3 million, with further cuts expected in 2017.

Every Breath, a successful campaign by Fresh,  the regional tobacco control office for the North East of England, helped to reduce smoking rates there by a third.

A campaign for a complete ban in all NHS buildings and grounds has been launched by Public Health England (PHE).

PHE said a “tobacco-free NHS” would encourage patients, visitors and staff to give up the habit, along with more support to help them quit. Many hospitals are already smoke-free in their buildings and grounds but some people still flout the rules.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: “Twenty five per cent of patients in hospital are smokers,” and a smoke-free environment would be beneficial for everyone.

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