UK tobacco display ban to reduce youngsters taking up the habit

A ban on displays of tobacco is coming into force in England. Ministers hope it will help curb the number of young people taking up smoking. Cigarettes and other products will have to be kept below the counter in large shops and supermarkets, while small outlets are exempt until 2015. Other parts of the UK are planning similar action to drive down smoking rates.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told the BBC he hoped the ban would prevent people from taking up smoking and also help those trying to give up. He said, “Firstly, it reduces the visibility of tobacco and smoking to young people. And, of course two-thirds of smokers started smoking before they were eighteen… So, if we can, literally, arrive at a place where young people just don't think about smoking and they don't see tobacco and they don't see cigarettes - then I hope we can make a big difference.” He said the government recognized the pressures on retailers to comply with the ban but added, “We want to arrive at a place where we no longer see smoking as a normal part of life. We're doing it by stages with constant active pressure.”

A fifth of adults smoke - a figure which has remained steady in recent years after decades of rapid falls. A plan to force manufacturers to put cigarettes into plain packets is also expected to be put out to consultation later this year. The display ban will apply to shops of more than 280 sq m (3,014 sq ft). Those in breach of the law could face a fine up to £5,000 ($7,930, 6,070 euros) or even imprisonment.

Public health minister Anne Milton cited evidence from Ireland which suggested the measure could play an important role in discouraging young people in particular from smoking. “We cannot ignore the fact that young people are recruited into smoking by colourful, eye-catching, cigarette displays. Most adult smokers started smoking as teenagers and we need to stop this trend.”

Jo Butcher, of the National Children's Bureau, agreed, “It's essential that we create a culture that promotes and protects public health and tobacco legislation is a significant factor in making this happen.”

Jean King, of charity Cancer Research UK, said the ban would help stop children who are attracted to brightly coloured tobacco packaging from taking up smoking but further action was still needed. “Of course we want to see the pack branding taken away as well. This is not a normal consumer product, it kills people. We want to protect the next generation of children,” she said.

Prof David Hammond from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, who advised the UK Department of Health over the legal case brought by the tobacco companies, says smoking patterns among young people aged 15 to 19 changed significantly after the bans took effect.

“I can tell you that smoking prevalence was lower among Canadian youth after display bans were implemented,” he said. “In addition, the number of cigarettes per day reported by both youth and adult smokers was significantly lower after display bans were implemented. These differences remained significant after statistically adjusting for changes in cigarette price, which are strongly associated with smoking behaviour.”

Critics say the ban is discriminatory and will not discourage young smokers. Additionally, the move has upset the tobacco industry. Moves by Scotland to introduce such a ban have been delayed by legal action taken by Imperial Tobacco.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for British American Tobacco said, “We do not believe that hiding products under the counter or behind curtains or screens will discourage people, including the young, from taking up smoking. There's no sound evidence to prove display bans are justified.” He added if anything it could encourage the illicit trade of tobacco products.

Andrew Opie, from the British Retail Consortium, the organization had calculated that it cost more than £15m to ensure everything was sorted out before the ban came into place. He said, “Children are more likely to smoke when they're in a household where parents smoke and also they tend to get their cigarettes from either parents, or older peers, not directly from supermarkets. It's certainly caused a lot of disruption to retailers as they didn't actually get that much notice to comply - and if you think that this is 6,000 shops in England, there are only so many shop-fitters that can do the work.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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