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Freedom to Choose (Scotland): Response to Tobacco Display Ban Consultation

Government should assist retailers in consistent enforcement of laws against illegal trading. The tobacco display ban is counter-productive and should be abandoned.
Freedom to Choose (Scotland) has responded to the Scottish government consultation on regulations for the legislation that will hide tobacco from sight in shops.
The regulations are designed to block the visibility of tobacco to anyone not making a purchase – to a degree that Belinda Cunnison describes as ‘fanatical’. ‘International evidence does not show drops in smoking in any country that has implemented a display ban. In most places, tobacco smoking has gone up, especially among the youth.’1 In its consultation response, Freedom to Choose (Scotland) stresses the need for retailers to be able to tell customers that they offer tobacco, since if the association is broken between tobacco and legal sellers, customers will be forced to go to the black market.
Freedom to Choose (Scotland) points out that some countries, including Denmark, Sweden2 and the fiercely anti-smoking New Zealand3 have rejected the display ban as a policy option citing the lack of an evidence base. This ‘inconclusive’ body of evidence was acknowledged during the Bill’s passage through parliament.4
The Freedom to Choose (Scotland) response also points to the illegal trade in tobacco, which is growing in response to increasing restrictions on illegal traders, and customers’ falling incomes, with the imminent prospects of further cuts and losses in livelihoods. A further factor is cuts in port policing.5
Freedom to Choose (Scotland) supports age verification campaigns, including No ID No Sale, an initiative of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association6, which came into being in 1999. Such industry initiatives support shopkeepers in their efforts to prevent underage sales, providing a measure of protection against the demands of persistent youngsters, by allowing staff to refer to a clearly stated company policy.
Incredibly at Stage 3 of the Bill, the Parliament nearly outlawed No ID No Sale signage. Richard Simpson MSP moved an amendment that would have limited any signage to the words ‘It is illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 18’, banning any prominent policy statement regarding age verification – simply because the major main age verification campaign was a TMA initiative. It was defeated by just one vote.7
The effect would have been ‘to ban displays that are aimed at staff such as prompts by the till to remind staff to verify a customer’s age’ and similar campaigns that ‘are essential to the successful implementation of the Bill’s provisions’.8 Says Belinda Cunnison: ‘Some legislators will go to any lengths to exclude the tobacco industry, even at the cost of effective enforcement of the law.’
Legal action is currently under way at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.9 Imperial Tobacco challenges the competence of the Scottish government to legislate on tobacco display and on the removal of vending machines, also part of the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Act, which passed on 27 January this year.
Belinda Cunnison – 0845 643 9552
1          Patrick Basham, Canada's ruinous tobacco display ban: economic and public health lessons, IEA, July 2010
3          New Zealand rejects call for tobacco display ban, Global Convenience Store Focus, March 2009,
5          Cut in port police linked to surge in tobacco smuggling by Ulster thugs, Scotsman, 26 June 2010,
6          TMA, youth access prevention
7          For the division, see Stage 3 report, col 23114.
8          Stage 3 report, col 23104, Deputy First Minister.
9          Tobacco giants launch legal bid against ban on open sale in Scotland, Daily Record, 29 June 2010

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