Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Cigarette display ban is approved

Cigarette gantry
The ban is to apply to displays like this from late next year

The Assembly has approved a ban on the display of tobacco items in shops in Northern Ireland.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said he planned to bring the ban, which he hoped would save lives, into force late next year.

However, DUP politicians argued that it should be delayed until 2013 in order to give retailers the time to fund changes to their premises.

A similar ban is to be introduced in the Irish Republic in July.

Mr McGimpsey argued that MLAs should not put "wealth before health".

"Currently in Northern Ireland about 9% of 11 to 16-year-olds regularly smoke," he said.

"The evidence is strong that if you begin smoking in your teenage years, you're three times more likely to take cancer than if you begin smoking in your 20s. This is very much about protecting our young people."

Earlier on Tuesday, shop owners said they could be put out of business by the proposed ban.

However, Ballymena newsagent Eugene Diamond said banning tobacco displays would not stop young people smoking.

Children

"I've been selling cigarettes for 30 years, in 30 years I've never sold cigarettes to children," Mr Diamond said.

"Basically children can't buy cigarettes from me whether they are on a gantry, below the gantry or whatever.

"If you can stop people going in and bringing out cigarettes to children, well and good, but banning the gantry is not going to stop children smoking."

Carmel Hanna, who is on the assembly health committee, said if even one young person was stopped from buying cigarettes the move would be worthwhile.

"If it does deter any number of young people from starting smoking because they just see a sign and say 'well I'll try one of those' it's certainly well worth it," she said.

"I can understand somebody being annoyed about it if they're selling cigarettes and maybe don't think that it is saving lives by banning the display."

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said: "We are not opposing this legislation, all we're asking for is to be treated the same way as the rest of the UK in which small businesses have been given until 2013 to make the changes.

Unrealistic

"The minister wants to bring these changes through by the end of next year, but we believe this is an unrealistic timescale, given that these business over the next 12 months will be hanging by a thread in terms of their cash flow."

Meanwhile, the Health Promotion Agency has said stopping a 20-a-day cigarette habit could save smokers up to 170 a month.

The message comes ahead of No Smoking Day on Wednesday week.

A website and advertising campaign is encouraging smokers to pack it in for the sake of their pockets as well as their health.

Chief executive of the HPA Dr Brian Gaffney said they were focusing on the financial cost of smoking as an added incentive for smokers to give up.

"We know that 75% of smokers in Northern Ireland would like to give up, and No Smoking Day is an ideal opportunity for them to make a huge impact on their health and overall quality of life by quitting," he said.

"There is a lot of support available to smokers and those who access support to help them quit double their chances of being successful."



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