If you go to the pub this weekend you might notice a slight difference – no more vending machines selling cigarettes. That means underage smokers will find it harder to get hold of them.
Without having to have a face-to-face encounter with a shopkeeper, vending machines were a ridiculously easy way for teenagers to buy cigarettes. In fact, when local councils tested whether underage people were able to purchase cigarettes from vending machines in the last financial year, they managed to buy them in over half of the venues they visited.
To illustrate this, the British Heart Foundation filmed a great video showing two obviously under-age children going round pubs in Westminster and buying cigarettes with ease from their vending machines.
Trying to stop children from starting smoking is vital – eight out of ten smokers start before they’re 19, and addiction keeps them smoking into adulthood. One in two long-term smokers die from their habit and smoking is responsible for 100,000 deaths each year, including over a quarter of deaths from cancer.
Because of the importance of protecting children from the dangers of smoking, we were delighted that thousands of you helped make our recent campaign against cigarette vending machines a great success.
Under the banner of putting tobacco ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’, you also helped us call for tobacco displays in shops to be removed and for cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging.
We’re making good progress: shop displays are set to disappear from large shops next April, and from small shops in 2015.
Probably the most radical policy of the three is plain packaging – and the Government has promised to hold a consultation on this by the end of this year.
Plain packaging means all cigarette packs would look the same, packaged in a standard shape without any branding, design or logo, but with the crucial health warnings on the front and back.
Research shows that plain packs are less attractive to teenagers. At the moment, packs are designed to be attractive and communicate the particular ‘personality’ of a brand. They can act as ‘badge products’, which become part of a person’s identity.
It’s the policy the tobacco industry fears most and they will do everything possible to stop it.
Cancer Research UK’s supporters have already done a lot to protect children from tobacco but the biggest challenge lies ahead.
We’ll be continuing to campaign to protect children from tobacco later this year, and we’re going to need your help. If you’re interested in getting involved when the time comes, let us know.
Robin Hewings is Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control policy manager