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MPs approve cigarette vending ban

13 October 09 08:14 GMT

The removal of cigarettes from public display is a step closer after MPs said vending machines should be banned and shops should keep stocks out of sight.

MPs supported a backbench amendment to outlaw cigarette vending machines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own separate bill.

The vending machine amendment to the government's Health Bill was passed by the Commons without going to a vote.

Health campaigners welcomed the step, calling it a "brave move".

The bill passed its third reading and will now go before the House of Lords.

The vending machine ban was proposed by the former Labour minister Ian McCartney, who said it would "change history".

Mr McCartney said vending machines gave young children access to cigarettes and condemned them as an "outrageous loophole in our country's safeguards" against tobacco.

He said tobacco was still "the only product in Britain that can be sold legally, which routinely kills and injures its customers".

The Conservatives had questioned the wisdom of banning shops from putting cigarettes on public display during a recession, when many smaller retailers were suffering from a lack of business. Newsagents say the proposal could cost them £250m in lost sales.

'Free choice'

Tory backbencher Philip Davies said: "This is the nanny state gone mad. On every conceivable level this particular ban is wrong.

"It goes against the principle of individual responsibility, free choice and people making their own decisions."

Mr Davies said it was "completely false" to suggest people would be more likely to buy cigarettes because they were displayed in shops.

He argued: "As someone who was a retailer for 12 years, can I tell you that tobacco is not an impulse purchase in the same way that cream cakes are."

But health minister Gillian Merron said the ban would help to stop new generations taking up smoking.

She said: "The tobacco industry constantly recruits young people to replace those who give up smoking or die each year.

"We are of course aware of how the current economic climate is affecting small business which is why we will not commence the effect of this legislation until 2011 for larger stores and 2013 for smaller shops."

Ms Merron said she was opposed to an outright ban on vending machines but the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said he would not oppose Mr McCartney's measure in the Lords.

He said: "The remaining amendments that have been voted through go over to the other place (the Lords) in a well-drafted and legally workable form.

"I will watch with interest how his proposals are received in another place but the government will not seek to overturn them," he added.

'Step forward'

The chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), Deborah Arnott, said the vending machine ban had "made a strong Bill even stronger".

It was the most "significant step forward" in public health since the ban on smoking in public places, she added.

The British Heart Foundation said the move was a "victory" for those who had campaigned on the issue.

"Consigning vending machines to the scrapheap will cut off an easy supply of cigarettes to children," said its chief executive Peter Hollins. "This policy must be carried out across the UK as soon as possible."

The Scottish Parliament is considering a similar ban on vending machines and public displays of tobacco.

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