The dramatic proposals were revealed yesterday as part of a government-commissioned report into how the UK could become smoke-free by 2030.
Written by charity chief Dr Javed Khan, it recommended the minimum age people can buy cigarettes and other tobacco products should be increased from 18 by one year each year – until nobody can buy them.
If approved, the measures would slot the UK among the most aggressive countries in the world battling to stamp out smoking permanently.
And the news has been welcomed by families, health bosses and civic leaders across Portsmouth area.
The 71-year-old of Paulsgrove, who has never smoked in his life, said: ‘Nobody is invincible.
‘My niece smoked a lot and she deteriorated when she got cancer. She was in her early 40s and she died within a couple of months.
‘It had a huge impact on our family. She was married with three sons and they were all quite young then. They were left without their mother.
‘It was so sudden; one day she was there, the next she was gone.’
Elizabeth Austin first started smoking at the age of 12. Now 51, she has spent a lifetime trying to kick the habit and still relapses occasionally.
The grandmother-of-seven from Leigh Park said: ‘I really regret picking up that first fag. As a habit, it is hard to break. It’s an addiction. It’s a life-long battle to quit.’
The 51-year-old added smoking had claimed the life of her dad, who developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a result.
‘I was caring for dad for 10 or 11 years while he fought COPD,’ she said. ‘I watched him suffer and panic. I could see the fear in his eyes when he couldn’t breathe. It was scary for me. That’s one of the reasons I want to give up.
‘I don’t want anyone to see what I had to see with my dad. I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.’
The most recent study by the Office for National Statistics estimated 16.4 per cent of adults in Portsmouth smoked.
Pre-pandemic data from Public Health England showed a surge in the number smokers heading to hospital, with 1,441 admissions in Portsmouth in 2018-19 – a six per cent rise on the year before.
Helen Atkinson, Portsmouth’s director of public health, said: ‘Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death. The new tobacco control recommendations are a welcome opportunity to help achieve the nation’s smoke-free target by 2030 and reduce health inequalities.’
Former health minister and Gosport MP, Caroline Dinenage, added: ‘We know smoking destroys lives, heaps pressure on our NHS and increases cost to taxpayers.
'We should be open to discussing ways to tackle it. The USA increased the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 in 2019 - I’m keen to hear more about their experiences and what we can learn from them.'