Lords put tobacco out of sight of children

Wednesday 06 May 2009
Action on Smoking & Health today praised the House of Lords for putting children’s health first following a vote to put tobacco out of sight in shops across England, Wales and Northern Ireland [1].

The move, which has been supported by over 100 health and welfare organisations, will close one of the remaining loopholes in the ban on tobacco advertising and will protect children from tobacco industry marketing.

Ending point of sale displays will remove a highly visible form of advertising in shops, places where many children go every day, and prevent tobacco from acquiring ‘innocence by association’ where it is sold alongside sweets and crisps.

Chief Executive of ASH Deborah Arnott said:

“ASH is delighted that peers have voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of this important public health measure. Smoking is not an adult choice but a childhood addiction with most smokers taking up the habit before they reach 18. Ending point of sale displays is an important part of a strategy to address youth smoking and prevent people from taking up a habit which kills over 100,000 people in the UK every year.”

Peers have also today narrowly voted against an amendment to the Government proposals to place age restrictions on vending machines. They have rejected an amendment which would have put tobacco out of reach of children by completely ending the sale of tobacco from vending machines, a measure which also has the support of over 100 health and welfare organisations.

While ASH welcomes some action on vending machines, international experience shows that only a total ban is effective in preventing minors from purchasing tobacco from this source.

Currently tobacco, a product which kills half of all life time users, can be purchased in the same way as healthcare products like condoms and tampons. Few adults buy tobacco from vending machines and children attempting to buy tobacco from these machines are rarely challenged unlike shops where age restrictions are far more effectively enforced.

ASH also welcomes the Government’s response to two other amendments to the Health Bill which were not taken to a vote.

In response to an amendment to oblige the Government to comply with guidance from a World Health Organisation treaty [2] regarding meeting with the tobacco industry, Baroness Thornton assured peers that the Government was committed to their obligations under the treaty and had circulated the guidance to all departments which will ensure that public health policies are protected from the commercial interests of the tobacco industry and those working to further its interests.

A further amendment tabled by Lord Patel and widely supported by peers but not taken to a vote was to mandate plain packaging for all tobacco products [3]. ASH welcomes the Government’s commitment to include a review of the evidence for plain packaging as part of their tobacco control strategy which is due to be published later this year.

Notes and links:
[1] Once the Bill has passed through the Lords it has still to complete its passage through the Commons.

[2] World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

[3] Plain packaging, also known as generic, standardised or homogeneous packaging, means that the attractive, promotional aspects of tobacco product packages are removed and the appearance of all tobacco packs on the market is standardised. Except for the brand name (which would be required to be written in a standard typeface, colour and size), all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics would be prohibited. The package itself would be required to be plain coloured (such as white or plain cardboard) and to display only the product content information, consumer information and health warnings required under the law. (Department of Health. Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control. 2008)