Government to step up tobacco controls

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Department of Health has revealed new plans to protect children and young people from smoking, including the removal of cigarette displays in shops and the introduction of age restrictions on vending machines.

The measures, which will be included in the forthcoming Health Bill, follow a consultation which attracted over 96,000 responses and revealed overwhelming support for stronger measures of tobacco control.

Health secretary Alan Johnson commented: "Enticing multi-coloured displays encourage young people to start smoking - we must put a stop to this. Smoking is a habit which is hard to break and causes 87,000 deaths a year in England alone.

"Protecting children from smoking is our goal. My hope is that shops will use this opportunity to promote healthier goods to their customers."

Since tobacco advertising was banned, the industry has largely relied on retail displays in order to attract new young customers.

Government research has shown that over eight in ten adult smokers picked up the habit before they were 19, and nearly 200,000 11 to 15-year-olds in England were regular smokers in 2007.

Studies have also revealed that people who start smoking as children are three times more likely to die of smoking-related cancers than those who start in their mid-20s.

Mr Johnson revealed that certain proposals in the tobacco control consultation will not be taken forward into primary legislation at this stage, including plain packing for tobacco products.

While support for this measure was strong, the government believes more research is needed before action can be taken and has committed to reviewing this at a later date.

Ministers also want more evidence for restrictions on the advertising and promotion of tobacco accessories - such as cigarette papers - before taking action.

The government also confirmed that packs containing ten cigarettes will not be banned. Two thirds of respondents to the consultation were against this measure and many were concerned that larger packs could actually encourage smokers to smoke more.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, commented: "We are very encouraged by the announcement to put cigarettes out of sight but disappointed that vending machines will still be available. Nearly 50,000 teenage smokers get their cigarettes from vending machines so this is a missed opportunity.

"More than 80 per cent of smokers start before the age of 19 and tobacco kills half of all long-term smokers, so the need for action remains as important as ever. We urge the government to introduce these measures as soon as possible, and to consider further measures that are needed. In particular we hope they will work quickly towards developing and implementing tobacco control plans that are ambitious, comprehensive and well funded."

The British Medical Association has also expressed its disappointment at the government's decision not to ban tobacco vending machines.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics, commented: "We hope the proposals to make vending machines 'child-proof' will be rigidly enforced and that if they do not work then this issue will be revisited by ministers."

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