Monday, May 25, 2009

First licensee prosecuted for flouting the smoking ban

THE NEW head of Scotland's leading anti-smoking charity has called for cigarettes to be taken off shop shelves as part of efforts to dissuade the next generation from taking up the habit.
In her first interview as chief executive of Ash Scotland, Sheila Duffy also warned plans to expand smoking cessation services were at risk because of inadequate government funding levels.
And she cautioned tobacco should not be seen as a "done and dusted" health issue following the implementation of the ban on smoking in public places.
Duffy, who took up her new post this month after the retiral of previous chief executive Maureen Moore, told the Sunday Herald one idea which should be examined is the selling of cigarettes "under the counter".
"Some countries have experimented with the idea of taking tobacco off the open shelves, so you are not just going and buying it like you would buy bread and milk," she said.
"In the longer term, I think it is something we should seriously consider because this product is so dangerous it would never be allowed to be sold openly if it came on to the market today."
The legislation on smoking in public places - which came into force in Scotland in March 2006 - has been followed by further measures aimed at curbing the nation's nicotine habit. In October last year, the legal minimum age for buying tobacco was raised from 16 to 18, bringing it into line with alcohol.
Other plans which may soon come under consideration include a licensing system for shops selling tobacco, proposed by SNP MSP Christine Grahame.
Last month the government pledged £11 million a year for smoking cessation, to allow health boards to continue services and develop new ones in settings such as workplaces and social clubs.
But Ash Scotland has raised concerns that - taking inflation into account - this level of funding will represent a reduction of nearly 6% by 2010. And, while the overall budget for tackling smoking has increased by £2.5m to £13.8m, Duffy argued it was still inadequate.
"Alcohol is receiving three times as much funding as tobacco control," she said. "We are not saying don't tackle alcohol abuse - you need to tackle alcohol - but tobacco is no less dangerous."
Her comments yesterday met with a mixed reaction from politicians and campaigners. The British Medical Association has also called for a ban on displaying cigarettes at the point of sale. A spokeswoman for BMA Scotland said the practice "normalised" cigarettes, especially when they are placed next to every day items.
"Research has found young children become more aware of tobacco brands when cigarettes are on display and they are more likely to express an interest in buying named brands," she said.
Labour's health spokeswoman, Margaret Curran, pointed out tobacco was still a major killer in Scotland and added: "It would be a disaster if the good work of encouraging thousands of Scots to quit tobacco was damaged by a lack of investment."
Mary Scanlon, health spokeswoman for the Conservatives, agreed cessation services and support were vital, but said selling cigarettes "under the counter" was a simplistic approach that would have little impact. "It is not the display of cigarettes that makes you want to buy them, it is because you are addicted to smoking," she said.
Neil Rafferty, of pro-smokers' rights group Forest, argued: "Cigarettes are a perfectly legal product and as long as they are a legal product then adults should be able to make a normal consumer choice."
He added: "It is typical anti-smoking hypocrisy. We are told in Scotland that alcohol is doing our country enormous damage, but no-one is going to suggest alcohol be hidden under the counter."
The Scottish government is due to publish a five-year smoking prevention action plan this year, which will draw on 31 recommendations made by experts in a report published in 2006.
Public health minister Shona Robison said: "Proposals for under-the-counter sales will be considered within this action plan.
"I am confident the £11m a year I announced last month for smoking cessation will allow boards to continue existing services and develop new ones."