MPs agree to ban cigarette vending machines and shop displays

In collaboration with the Press Association

Leading health organisations, including Cancer Research UK, have welcomed MPs' decision to include an outright ban on cigarette vending machines in the Health Bill.

In a recent letter to the Times, the organisations urged MPs to dispense with vending machines altogether rather than simply limit access to them, as had previously been proposed.

Under the measures originally contained in the Health Bill, the machines would have been modified so that, for example, landlords would have been required to check a person's age before operating their cigarette vending machine with a remote control.

But when the Bill went before the House of Commons on Monday (October 12th), MPs approved an amendment by Labour's Ian McCartney.

This means that the House of Lords - which has already passed a clause to ban the display of cigarettes in shops - will now consider whether tobacco vending machines should be outlawed.

Mr McCartney, a former Cabinet minister, said that vending machines represent an "outrageous loophole" in the country's safeguards to protect children.

He also pointed out that it is "the only product in Britain that can be sold legally which routinely kills and injures its customers".

The move, which the government has agreed not to oppose, was welcomed by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), whose chief executive Deborah Arnott said that it has made the Health Bill "even stronger".

"We wouldn't tolerate other age-restricted products such as alcohol or knives being sold in this way. This prohibition means that a lethal and addictive product will no longer be easily accessible to children," she pointed out.

Cancer Research UK has also welcomed the decision as many young people buy their cigarettes from vending machines and are swayed by attractive tobacco displays in shops.

Chief executive Harpal Kumar noted that tobacco kills half of all long-term users.

He commented: "We are delighted that MPs have voted to protect young people from tobacco marketing. Putting tobacco out of sight in shops and removing cigarette vending machines will help reduce the number of young people taking up a lethal addiction."

Mr Kumar said that MPs should feel proud that they have put the health of the nation's children ahead of the financial interests of the tobacco industry.

"But these are not magic bullets by themselves," he noted.

"We urge all parties to support further measures to protect young people and to appropriately support smokers to quit."

UK teenagers continue to take up smoking at present, even though it is known to be the biggest preventable cause of premature death, and figures suggest that 360,000 under-16s try a cigarette for the first time each year.

Research backed by the World Health Organisation suggests that the proposed measures would help stop children from smoking.

For instance, a report on a similar ban introduced in Iceland in 2001 has shown that the incidence of smoking among 15-year-olds fell from 18.6 per cent in 1999 to 13.6 per cent in 2003.