Drugs committee recommends 18 year minimum for cigarette sales
The government's drug advisory committee has recommended that the minimum age for tobacco sales should be raised to 18 and that alcohol advertising should be restricted.
British teenagers are among the heaviest smokers and drinkers for their age group in the EU. Both substances are linked to an increased risk for a range of cancers.
As well as raising the age limit on tobacco sales, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended that alcohol advertising at events and during TV shows which targeted teenagers should be banned.
Between 20 and 25 per cent of 15-year-olds smoke regularly and half drink alcohol at least once a week.
"We've seen over the last ten to 12 years, particularly among young women, our consumption of alcohol has virtually doubled," said the council's head Dr Laurence Gruer.
"We are also seeing across the whole of the UK a dramatic rise in the amount of cirrhosis of the liver that's caused by chronic drinking and we are now the fastest growing country in Europe in terms of alcoholic cirrhosis."
Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, pointed out that increasing the age of cigarette purchase to 18 would put cigarette sales in line with restrictions on alcohol sales.
"This might reduce the availability of cigarettes to young people, but only if it can be properly enforced.
"We also know that around a third of under-age smokers obtain cigarettes from older friends and family and increasing the age of purchase will not prevent this," she added.
"This means that other measures are still needed. Smoking initiation in young people is also strongly influenced by their perception of smoking as a common and desirable adult activity.
"Therefore reducing adult smoking rates is also critical through measures such as public awareness campaigns, greater regulation of tobacco products, higher cigarette prices and effective enforcement of smokefree public places."
The report is also significant in recognising that legal intoxicants can be more damaging than illegal drugs.
Find out about Cancer Research UK's stance on tobacco policy