Government delays in banning tobacco displays in England lead to frustration

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 11 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1609
  1. Ann McGauran
  1. 1London

Cancer Research UK, the BMA, and other experts have said they are disappointed by the government decision to delay removing tobacco displays from shops in England.

Although the government’s new tobacco control plan for England announced an intention to consult on forcing tobacco products into plain, unbranded packs, it also gives retailers extra time to prepare for the tobacco display provisions in the 2009 Health Act. The decision to delay implementing the tobacco display legislation for large shops until April 2012 and for all other shops until April 2015 has frustrated some professional groups and campaigning organisations.

The paper also says the government will continue to defend tobacco legislation against legal challenges by the tobacco industry, including legislation to stop tobacco sales from vending machines from October this year. The government says it will consult on options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, including plain packaging, before the end of this year.

Published on 9 March, Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Tobacco Control Plan for England confirms action to end eye catching tobacco displays in shops which encourage young people to start smoking.

In Scotland, a ban on tobacco displays had been expected to come into force this October in larger retailers, but Scotland’s public health minister Shona Robison said she expected the implementation dates would now mirror the English position. Scotland’s revised timetable will be confirmed following the outcome of Imperial Tobacco’s legal challenge. Regulations similar to those in England and Scotland are being considered by the Welsh Assembly.

In England, legislation to ban the display of tobacco products was put in place by the previous Labour government and if implemented would have ended tobacco displays in large supermarkets from September this year and in smaller shops a year later.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Harpal Kumar said he was “very disappointed” about the delay in the removal of tobacco displays in small shops. “We must never forget that every day 400 children start smoking,” he added. “Our young people will be exposed to persuasive tobacco marketing for two years longer than necessary. However, it is positive that the government will still remove cigarette vending machines as planned.”

The BMA’s director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson said: “While we are pleased that the health secretary has finally decided to implement this legislation, we are disappointed that he has said he will delay introducing the display ban until April 2012 for large shops and April 2015 for smaller ones.”

The tobacco control plan contains three “national ambitions” for reducing smoking rates in England by the end of 2015: from 21.2% to 18.5% or less among adults; from 15% to 12% or less among 15 year olds; and from 14% to 11% or less among pregnant mothers. Chair of the Royal College of Physicians tobacco advisory group John Britton urged the government to reconsider delaying the display ban.

He said the government’s ambition to cut adult smoking rates was commendable, but that achieving this in the time frame required a number of urgent measures, including introducing the tobacco display legislation as soon as possible, “not delaying the full ban until 2015.” He added: “The government has accepted that legislation is needed, so we fail to see why its implementation has been pushed back.”

The amended regulations will mean that tobacco products will need to be out of sight in shops, except for temporary displays in certain limited circumstances. Launching the plan, the government said the size of the display allowed while serving customers or carrying out other authorised activities will increase from 0.75 to 1.5 square metres. ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) said that as long as products weren’t visible when the public was present and provided a minimum level of shelving was exposed at any one time, the increase was acceptable.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1609


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