The move by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to ban the open display of tobacco products in shops is a logical next step in the battle to stamp out smoking.
The Minister is bringing legislation into line with that in England and Wales and he is doing it swiftly. It will be up to the Assembly to back his decision but it is difficult to see how any politicians could object to this measure.
The facts are quite chilling. It is estimated that 2,700 deaths each year in Northern Ireland are caused by smoking. A middle-aged man smoking 20 cigarettes a day increases his risk of a heart attack threefold.
And then there is the horror of lung cancer, with 90% of those who contract the disease being smokers. Even hardened smokers admit that it is an unhealthy habit increasing the risks of cancer, heart attacks, strokes and a range of other respiratory illnesses.
It is also a very addictive habit. Those who have
been smoking for several years find it very difficult to stop. Of course, the best remedy is never to start and that is what the ban on the open display of cigarettes and other tobacco products is aimed at. By putting them under the counter, it is hoped that young people will be discouraged from starting. The measure should also include banning cigarette vending machines from areas where young people can access them.
Governments have been slow to tackle the problem of smoking effectively, mainly because it is such a big revenue earner. It was only with the in
troduction of the smoking ban in public places that the message went out clearly that smoking is no longer an acceptable habit.
Unfortunately it is a habit which seems to remain attractive to the young, particularly young girls. Young men who are into sporting activities are more likely to shun the habit.
With advertising banned, sporting links with tobacco broken, a prohibition on smoking in work and leisure spaces and now the hiding of tobacco products under the counter, the drive to stop young people smoking has become really serious.
It is a fact of life that older people who remain addicted to cigarettes will die out, probably prematurely. The aim of legislation must be to stop new generations getting hooked and this latest move fulfils that aim.
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly has got a mixed reception to their respective performances since the return of devolved government. At times party political views have dominated, rather than what is good for the community at large. This is one piece of legislation which should find favour right across the political spectrum.
There may be a case for premises which deal only in tobacco products being allowed to display their goods as currently, but all other shops should be forced to put cigarettes and tobacco under the counter.
If the various anti-smoking measures do lead to a drop in the number of people smoking, then successive generations will have much to thank Mr McGimpsey for.