Cigarette vending machines could go in UK

17:23, Feb 01 2010
SMOKING LAW: Last year it became mandatory for cigarette packets to be covered with one of the seven graphic health warnings.
SMOKING REDUCTION: The number of people lighting up has fallen by a quarter in the past decade as a result of various Government policies.

The UK government has launched plans to halve the number of smokers in Britain by the end of the decade and said it would consider removing branding from cigarette packets and banning cigarette vending machines.

At the moment, 21 percent of the British population smoke and ministers want to reduce that figure to 10 percent by 2020, with a particular focus on young people.

"We've come so far and now we'll go even further - to push forward and save even more lives," said Health Secretary Andy Burnham.

"One day, in the not too distant future, we'll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place."

The number of people lighting up has fallen by a quarter in the past decade as a result of various policies including a ban on advertising, putting grisly pictures on packets and raising the age of sale for tobacco to 18.

In 2007, the government introduced a ban on smoking in virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces, and last year 337,000 people quit cigarettes.

But despite falling smoking rates, the number of deaths attributed to smoking is 80,000 a year, costing the National Health Service some 2.7 billion pounds ($NZ3.85b) a year.

The Government said seven out of 10 smokers want to give up and, as part of the new strategy, smoking restrictions will be reviewed to see if they should be extended to include entrances to buildings.

It also will look at protecting children from second-hand smoke by promoting smoke-free homes and cars. Tailor-made anti-smoking strategies will be available on the NHS, and the Government will crack down on cheap, illicit cigarettes.

Ministers are also to consider the case for plain packaging, and banning the sale of tobacco from vending machines as part of the moves to deter young people.

"Now that we've banned advertising and will soon see an end to attractive displays in shops, the only remaining method of advertising tobacco is the packaging," Burnham said.

"So we will carefully consider whether there is evidence for making tobacco companies use plain packets."

Pro-smoking group Forest said the measures were draconian and illiberal, and that people should be allowed to make choices about their own lifestyle.

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association said it welcomed the crackdown on illicit trade but criticised other proposals.

"The Government's dictatorial approach to tobacco control is hardly conducive to changing consumer lifestyle choices," said chief executive Christopher Ogden.

The British Medical Association's head of science and ethics Vivienne Nathanson praised the plans and said they would "save lives and protect health."

"Measures like banning vending machines, improving NHS Stop Smoking Services, tackling tobacco smuggling and maintaining awareness campaigns to encourage smokers to quit will pave the way for a smokefree society," she said in a statement.

Tobacco is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the world and kills more than 5 million people a year.

Smoking rates in Britain and other European countries have been coming down in recent years, and that decrease is reflected in falling rates of lung cancer, particularly among men.