- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LONDON (AP) - The cigarette packs piled into prominent displays behind store counters and supermarket checkouts in England can’t be missed. The displays occupy prime retail real estate, helping to keep addicts hooked and quitters tempted.

But the British government announced a ban on the point-of-sale displays Wednesday, a move which would keep cigarettes hidden away and make it that much more difficult for smokers to find their fix.

The British Medical Association said it was “very pleased” with the announcement, citing research which it said showed that a display ban would play “a key role in discouraging children from smoking and … also help smokers quit.” The association’s only complaint was about the deadline _ which forces larger stores to take down their displays by April 2012 and gives smaller stores an extra three years to comply with the ban.

The ban doesn’t apply to other regions in the U.K. such as Scotland, where a similar ban has been held up by a legal challenge from Imperial Tobacco PLC.

“We cannot ignore the targeting of young people through these displays,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies said in a statement, saying that the can’t-miss-it advertising encourages teens “to start smoking at an age when they are less able to make an informed choice.”

England is following countries such as Iceland, Ireland and Canada, all of whom have already forced cigarettes under the counter. The government said it was still mulling over proposals to impose generic packaging on all tobacco products _ a move which would force cigarette makers to use plain, logo-free packs.

Australia is already working toward a generic packaging system. If it followed suit, England would be the first nation in Europe to do so.

Meanwhile, England’s display ban drew predictable responses from both sides of the tobacco wars, with health groups cheering and retailers grumbling.

The Association of Convenience Stores said the new regulations would impose 40 million pounds ($65 million) in costs as owners dismantled their displays and refit their counters, while the National Federation of Retail Newsagents described it as a “betrayal of our nation of shopkeepers.”

Both groups argued that there was no evidence to show that such a ban would help improve public health.


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