Cigarettes will be banned to anyone born after the year 2000, if doctors secure legislative support for a radical new policy they have backed.
The controversial step to prohibit tobacco sales to the next generation provoked lively debate at the BMA annual representatives meeting at Harrogate.
London research assistant in academic public health Tim Crocker-Buqué (pictured) said: ‘The level of harm caused by smoking is unconscionable.’
Dr Crocker-Buqué said 80 per cent of smokers started as teenagers and banning the sale of cigarettes to those born after 2000 would help create the first tobacco-free generation.
He claimed 100 million people had died from tobacco-related illness in the 20th century and that two in three smokers wished they could stop, while nine in 10 wished they had never started.
‘It is not expected that this policy will instantly prevent all people from smoking, but [rather it will] de-normalise cigarette smoking,’ he said.
Addiction too costly
BMA Northern Ireland council chair Paul Darragh decried the physical cost of nicotine addiction.
Dr Darragh said he was a former heavy smoker, reaching for a cigarette even after delivering the news of inoperable bronchial carcinoma to smoker patients.
‘As doctors, we see first-hand the devastating effects of tobacco addiction,’ he said.
Stockport director of public health Stephen Watkins said libertarian arguments aside, the fact remained that two-thirds of smokers wanted to give up.
‘Addiction is the real affront to liberty,’ he added.
However, some of those at the ARM spoke against the measure.
Black market potential
Aberdeen medical student Adrianna Klejnotowska said making the sale of cigarettes illegal would open the gates for the black market to flourish.
‘The potential health risks of those may be even greater than those of legal cigarettes,’ she said.
Ms Klejnotowska said a better route would be for the government to increase taxes on cigarettes even further and use those funds to treat lung cancer.
Birmingham associate specialist in ENT Yohanna Takwoingi said seeking a total ban on tobacco was ‘headline grabbing’ and ‘sensationalist’.
He also warned it would lead to a growth in the illegal tobacco trade and would only serve to encourage young people to sample ‘forbidden fruits’.
BMA public health medicine committee deputy chair Iain Kennedy said he was not convinced that as a trade union, the BMA should support ‘a policy that demonises working people’.
He said 19 per cent of smokers were made up of managerial or professional classes, while 33 per cent were in manual occupations.
However, BMA board of science chair Baroness Sheila Hollins said targeting children who were currently 15 years or younger was important in breaking the cycle of taking up smoking.
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