Cigarettes and Smoking

More and more Trading Standards professionals are having to include health-related issues within their areas of expertise. Obvious examples include expanding food enforcement to tackle issues of healthy eating and obesity, and working with the Police and other agencies to tackle underage drinking.  However, the focus again is on cigarettes and smoking with the imminent tobacco display ban coming into force in Scotland, and publicised debates in the press this recently between the Tobacco Retailers Alliance and Anti-Smoking Groups.

Will this soon be a shot of the past?

Trading Standards are no doubt caught somewhere in the middle, already working routinely on underage sales of cigarettes, and now facing further legislation to become involved with.

Figures from WHO (The World Health Organisation) illustrate why smoking remains such a powerful issue; with 5.4 million people dying each year globally from tobacco-related illnesses, and the expectation that this will rise to 8 million in just two decades time. In the UK, Cancer Research report that whilst less than 1% of 11 year olds smoke regularly, this rises to 15% by the age of 15. These figures alone show the importance of tackling underage sales. But whilst work on underage sales has been prevalent for some years, with good results, new tactics are now being tried in an attempt to further reduce smoking generally.

No smoking – ever

Next year the tobacco display ban comes into force for large retailers in Scotland (and for small shops in 2013). Under the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Act, cigarette vending machines will also be banned and retailers will have to join a registration scheme. Health officials hope this will reduce the amount of young people taking up smoking as they will no longer be subject to the large displays of cigarettes when they enter a shop.

Press reports have shown a strong opposition to the move by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance who believe that by moving cigarettes out of sight under the counter, makes people feel awkward about purchasing them, encouraging them to switch to purchasing their cigarettes at a cheaper price from illegal sources.   This is obviously a legitimate concern and one that the new Coalition Government are seriously considering while deciding whether to introduce the tobacco display ban in England.

It’s embarrassing for smokers to now ask

Many people believe that whilst new measures are needed to tackle the smoking problem, obvious solutions are being missed in favour of the display ban.  Trading Standards have only ever been able to tackle the straightforward problem of an underage person buying cigarettes. The situation of adults purchasing cigarettes for children is well known, but not easy to address with test purchase methods. Interestingly, both the Tobaccos Retailers Alliance and anti-smoking groups have both called for a law which would make such a purchase by an adult illegal. A recent poll by Ash (Scotland) revealed that 90% of people surveyed wanted this as a number one priority. Combine these findings with statistics from Canada which show that smoking actually increased after a tobacco display ban, and it’s easy to see why the law is proving so controversial.

Marketing of cigarettes on the internet has also been in the news recently, as it was found that the tobacco industry may be using sites such as YouTube to get around a ban on advertising. The tobacco companies deny using the internet in such a way, and there is no evidence to suggest adverts are showing up on social networking sites, such as Facebook.  Researchers claim though that pro-tobacco videos were found on YouTube, and this has prompted calls for better policing and regulation of the internet once again.

The fight has gone online

Unfortunately, it seems that the recent flurry of attention on smoking focuses on attempts to hide the product in a bid to make it ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Based on the alarming statistics above, it would appear that much more needs to be done. We will have to wait and see what the effects of the tobacco display ban will be in Scotland. One thing that will be certain is that Trading Standards will be relied upon to police whatever the regime.

Alison Ramsden
September 2010

Alison is a Trading Standards Expert and regularly contributes to Barbour’s weekly briefings. To find out more about our briefings, click this link here.

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