Raising legal age of tobacco sales 'could free up 75,000 GP appointments per month', says charity

Preventing young people from smoking before they ever start could free up 75,000 GP appointments per month, a charity suggests.

The study by Cancer Research suggests raising the legal age to buy tobacco products will cut out a portion of future smokers, taking off some of the strain on an already struggling health service.

The charity has called for the government to pour more funding into helping current smokers kick the habit - and has recommended a raise in the legal tobacco sales age to stop young people from picking it up.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, told Sky News the upcoming budget meeting is the chancellor's chance to reduce the number of people "suffering and dying" from smoking-relating cancers, making a positive impact on the economy and NHS overall.

"Jeremy Hunt must grasp this opportunity to be bold with tobacco control and establish a Smokefree Fund to pay for these measures - and if required, make the tobacco industry, not the taxpayer, pay for the harm it causes to our nation's health, and our health service," Ms Mitchell said.

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However, director of smokers' group Forest, Simon Clark, said: "It isn't the government's job to end smoking, over the past decade smoking rates have fallen significantly not because of taxpayer-funded anti-smoking campaigns or stop-smoking services, but because millions of smokers have switched to reduced-risk products such as e-cigarettes.

"Government interventions, like plain packaging, have generally had very little impact."

The analysis was based on GP appointment data combined with a 2018 study, which found non-smokers made trips to the GP 12% less than those that smoke.

The charity says that smoking remains the biggest cause of cancer death and takes up a "considerable" amount of NHS resources - with one person admitted every minute.