Children and Young People Health and Care Services

Tobacco behind closed doors

17 March 2015

Article by Victoria Paris, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Pixabay.  Licenced under the Creative Commons.
Image from Pixabay. Licenced under the Creative Commons.

When you are out shopping do you still see tobacco products on display?  Is it a case of, out of sight, out of mind?  Do you own a small shop, are you prepared for the ban on displaying tobacco products – can you afford not to be?

According to research there is clear evidence that tobacco point of sale (PoS) displays have a direct impact on young people’s smoking. The odds of a young person admitting an intention to smoke may increase by 35 per cent with every brand that they can name as having seen advertised at PoS.  In addition, amongst established smokers, PoS stimulates impulse purchases and undermines efforts to quit.

The Health Act 2009 included measures prohibiting the display of tobacco products at the point of sale in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  For Wales, from 3 December 2012, Regulations came into force which made it illegal to display tobacco products at the point of sale in large stores, such as supermarkets (a large store is a store with a relevant floor area exceeding 280 square meters).  Similar measures have been brought into force in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

From 6 April 2015 this ban extends to all small stores in the UK so it will be illegal for any business selling tobacco products to display tobacco products to the public.  The display of prices of tobacco products is also restricted.

Stores can display tobacco products temporarily in some circumstances:

  • Following requests to buy or view tobacco by customers over 18 (age checks must be carried out before showing them tobacco products);
  • Incidental displays while staff are: restocking, assessing stock levels, cleaning, maintaining or refurbishing the storage unit or undertaking staff training;
  • In specified circumstances by bulk tobacconists or specialist tobacconists;
  • Following a request by an enforcement officer.

The enforcement regime is led through local authority trading standards officers and it is the retailer’s responsibility to ensure that the correct changes are made.  Any non-compliance with the legislation is deemed a criminal offence and any person found guilty of such an offence, including shop managers and shop workers, is liable.  An offence can carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

The Welsh Government has proposed, through the Public Health White Paper, that all retailers of tobacco products should be required to register on a national tobacco retailers’ register.  This proposal has generally been welcomed with the belief that the registration scheme will support enforcement of under-age sales and assist in enforcement of the display ban, by making it easier to identify locations where tobacco is, or is not, permitted to be sold.

On 21 January 2015 Assembly Members approved a Supplementary Legislative Consent Motion, tabled by the Welsh Government, which paved the way for standardised packaging to be introduced in Wales if the UK Government went ahead with the introduction of such regulations.  On 11 March 2015 MPs approved regulations enforcing standardised tobacco packaging.  The result was a Government win by 367 votes to 113, a majority of 254.   If the House of Lords approve the regulations, from 2016 every cigarette packet will look the same except for the make and brand name, with graphic photos accompanying health warnings.

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