Northern Ireland Assembly approves ban on tobacco displays

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Northern Ireland Assembly has approved proposals to ban displays of tobacco products in shops across the country after health minister Michael McGimpsey brought his plans to the Stormont Assembly yesterday (March 3rd).

Members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) agreed to support the proposals, which could come into effect as early as 2010.

Mr McGimpsey said that the plans were designed to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place and revealed that similar methods have proved to be effective in other countries.

- Jean King, director of tobacco control, Cancer Research UK

In Iceland, where tobacco displays have already been removed from shops, there has been a more than seven per cent decrease in 15 to 16-year-olds who smoke, while Canada has similarly experienced a ten per cent reduction among 15 to 19-year-olds over five years.

Speaking to the Assembly, Mr McGimpsey said: "The main objective of the legislation is to reduce the number of children and young people who take up smoking. It will also support and help those who are trying to quit smoking.

"Research shows that children and young people are particularly susceptible to advertising and that those who are exposed to tobacco advertising are more likely to take up smoking.

"As a reformed smoker who started to smoke in my youth, I know only too well the damage that tobacco can do and how addictive it is. Thankfully I no longer smoke, but I only wish that I had not started in the first place."

The health minister noted that smoking is often portrayed as being "cool" and that children become hooked before they realise it.

"Every action must be taken to prevent children from getting on that malignant conveyor belt, which leads only to addiction and ill health," he added.

Figures show that around nine per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds smoke regularly in Northern Ireland.

Adults who started smoking as teenagers have been shown to face a threefold increased risk of cancer compared with those who started in their 20s.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, commented: "We applaud the commitment made by the Minister for Health and the Northern Ireland Assembly to put tobacco products out of sight and out of mind. Tobacco kills half of all long-term users and 80 per cent of smokers start before they're 19 - so the need to act is as urgent as ever.

"Other countries have shown that making tobacco products less visible is effective in reducing the number of young smokers. The cost of refitting a standard small retailer could be as little as £200, but the health benefits to young people will be invaluable."