Society’s stubbing out the longing to grow up
Move to tighten law on cigarette sales is part of a worrying desire to infantilise young people
At the age of 16, I spent bus rides home from college sitting on the top deck, enjoying a quiet cigarette. Three decades on, when I tell my children this story, they are incredulous that smoking was once permitted on public transport. Perhaps in another 30 years, it will be smoking as a teenager they find most difficult to comprehend.
A government review recommends that the age at which people can buy cigarettes should be raised. In his report to Sajid Javid, the health secretary, the former Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan argues that to eradicate smoking altogether by 2030, the age at which tobacco can legally be purchased should either be increased by one year, every year, or there should be a one-off increase to 21.
New Zealand has already committed to annual increases, meaning that children born after 2008 will never be able to buy cigarettes legally. It is unclear which, if any, of Khan’s recommendations will be adopted by the government. But the fact that they are being discussed at all should give us pause for thought.
Anti-smoking zealots will join battle with libertarians deploring the “nanny state”, but beyond these emotive positions lies a bigger concern about the meaning of adulthood. It was only in 2007 that the age at which people could legally buy cigarettes was raised from 16 to 18. That we are now discussing a potential further increase to 21 calls into question the age at which a person is deemed capable of assuming the rights and responsibilities that go with coming of age.