A ban on tobacco displays in shops across Scotland is on hold because of an appeal by one of the world’s biggest cigarette manufacturers.
Legal action by Imperial Tobacco will now prevent the Scottish Government from introducing the measure later this year, as had been planned.
The move was meant to come into force for larger retailers at the beginning of October, but this has had to be put on hold pending the court case. Imperial Tobacco previously appealed against the provisions of the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill on shop displays but their case was rejected by Lord Bracadale. However, they are now appealing that judgment and a hearing later this year means the October introduction will have to be delayed.
Public Health Minister Shona Robison said: “The ban on displaying tobacco products in shops is being introduced to make cigarettes less attractive to children and young people.
“We remain fully committed to this policy and are continuing to work with the retail industry to prepare for implementation.”
But the minister added: “The ongoing legal challenge means that an October start date is now unrealistic. We will announce the new implementation date as soon as possible.”
The Bill also established a register of tobacco retailers, but it was the provision forcing products under the counter and outlawing cigarette vending machines that led to the company seeking judicial review on the grounds that it went beyond the legal powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Lord Bracadale held that the purpose of these sections of the Act was to reduce smoking among children and young people to improve long-term health, and this did not relate to areas reserved to Westminster under the Scotland Act.
John Drummond, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, said of the delay: “We welcome this sensible decision. The prolonged uncertainty caused by the legal challenge has made it impossible for retailers to prepare for the changeover within the current timescales.
“With evidence from Ireland and Canada suggesting display bans are not an effective method of reducing youth smoking rates, we hope the Scottish Government will use this delay to review the policy and look for more effective solutions.
“These include tougher action against adults found to be purchasing tobacco on behalf of a child, improved education and a clearly defined remit for Trading Standards and police to target offenders caught selling illegal tobacco.”
Anti-smoking group Ash Scotland was angered by the delay. Chief executive Sheila Duffy said: “It is disappointing that a tobacco display ban for large retailers will not be able to be introduced this year due to continuing tobacco industry legal challenges but, sadly, not in any way surprising.
“The tobacco industry constantly seeks to delay, dilute or derail any policy or legislation that threatens its power.
“Despite losing the arguments over introducing a retail tobacco display ban in Parliament and losing a petition for judicial review, Imperial Tobacco continues to use its vast profits to challenge measures that are aimed at preventing young people from starting to smoke.”
By Robbie Dinwoodie Cheif Scottish Political Writer