Tobacco is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world and accounts for over one in four cancer deaths. Every day, 450 children in the UK take up smoking and many of them will go on to become addicted.
That’s why Cancer Research UK works so hard to tackle smoking, especially in young people.
Alan Johnson MP, the Health Secretary, announced today that the Government will bring in new legislation on point-of-sale displays and vending machines covering England and Wales, but we’re disappointed that they haven’t gone further.
Earlier this year, we launched our Out of Sight, Out of Mind campaign to protect children and young people from tobacco marketing.
We wanted to see the governments of the UK take action to remove tobacco displays from the point of sale, prohibit the sale of cigarettes from vending machines and introduce plain packaging for tobacco products. 55,000 people signed our petition and 10,000 more emailed the Department of Health to share their views.
For some time now, tobacco advertising has been banned on TV, in print and on billboards. Yet children are still regularly exposed to branding on packs and attractive tobacco displays in shops. By removing tobacco from public view and introducing plain packaging, we can reduce the pull towards a potentially deadly addiction.
We also know that many young people, particularly underage smokers, buy cigarettes from vending machines. In fact, 17 per cent of 11 to 15 year olds say that vending machines are their usual source of cigarettes.
Under the new plans, supermarkets and large retailers will have to put cigarettes out of sight in October 2011, with newsagents and corner shops following two years later. Also in 2011, an age restriction mechanism will be introduced for tobacco vending machines.
This will probably mean machines which only work when a special token is inserted – the theory is that you’ll have to show ID when you get these tokens, meaning underage smokers will find it harder to buy cigarettes.
In 2013, this policy will be reviewed and a full ban on vending machines could be brought in if it’s shown to be ineffective. On the question of plain packaging for cigarettes, the Government has pledged to keep the situation under review while they wait for more evidence that this measure will work.
Not far enough
While these new proposals go part of the way, they’re not ideal. Waiting five years for tobacco to be put out of sight in all shops is too long. Examples from other countries show that young people can easily get cigarettes from vending machines, even with age restriction mechanisms – removing vending machines altogether is the only real solution.
And we really hope that the Government seizes the opportunity to examine plain packaging, a measure which could have a massive impact on how tobacco is seen by young people.
Email your MP
That’s why we’re now asking people to email MPs urging them to support the new proposals and push the Government to go further.
The Scottish Government has its own set of proposals for tackling tobacco marketing, including point-of-sale – it will be debated by MSPs in the New Year. The Northern Irish Assembly hasn’t yet decided whether or not they will opt in to the Westminster legislation.
Jon Spiers is a cancer campaigns manager at Cancer Research UK