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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Call to raise smoking legal age
BMA Scotland wants youngsters to be discouraged from smoking
Doctors' representative body BMA Scotland has renewed its call to increase the legal age to buy cigarettes from 16 to 18.

BMA Scotland chairman Dr Peter Terry urged ministers to take the "bold step" to discourage youngsters from smoking.

Dr Terry said raising the legal age would impact on the number of smokers.

Health Minister Andy Kerr said it was an "interesting" suggestion but he ruled out action until a wider public discussion on the issue.

The call comes as BMA Scotland publishes a report on the subject on the opening day of the body's annual UK conference in Belfast.

It is one year since doctors at the meeting voted in favour of raising the purchase age for tobacco to 18.

The BMA report outlines the benefits that such a move would have on changing Scotland's attitude to tobacco use and decreasing the number of young people smoking.

Scotland led the way in the UK with regard to smoke-free enclosed public places and it is now time to lead the way by taking this bold step
Dr Peter Terry
BMA Scotland chairman

About 19% of 15-year-olds and 6% of 13-year-olds are regular smokers, smoking one or more cigarettes a week.

Smoking is also more prevalent among girls than boys, statistics show.

Dr Terry said: "By raising the purchase age of cigarettes to 18, ministers would send a clear message that Scotland considers tobacco use among young people to be a problem that must be addressed.

"We know that this approach works in discouraging young people from smoking.

"Experience from other countries has shown that raising the age to 18, when introduced along with other tobacco control measures such as smoke-free enclosed public places and education programmes, can have a positive effect on reducing the number of young smokers.

Working group

"Scotland led the way in the UK with regard to smoke-free enclosed public places and it is now time to lead the way by taking this bold step."

The report said that raising the minimum age to 18 would decrease the number of young people smoking in Scotland by reducing the availability and access to cigarettes.

The report also states that most smokers begin in adolescence and research shows that the younger someone starts, the less likely they are to give up.

A smoking prevention working group is considering the case for raising the minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco and is expected to report its findings shortly.

'Proper research'

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Kerr said the proposal was interesting and he was sympathetic to the call, but he stressed the importance of research and a wider public discussion.

"We've got guys like Director of Public Health Sciences Laurence Gruer working on that particular issue and recommendations coming from that group," the health minister said.

"So I'm sympathetic but I want to know we've done our proper research before making any further moves."

Mr Kerr said his gut feeling was there was a need to further "de-normalise" smoking and increase efforts to prevent under-16s from buying cigarettes.

Countries which have increased the purchase age of tobacco from 16 to 18 include Malta, Australia, Norway and the Republic of Ireland.


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