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Anger over tobacco display ban delay

By Lisa Smyth

Proposals which could save thousands of lives in Northern Ireland are in danger of being derailed due to Government inaction, two leading charities have warned.

Every day the Government fails to press ahead with the steps required to remove displays of tobacco products in shops and prevent the sale of cigarettes from vending machines, more young people are taking up smoking and fewer people are succeeding in their battle to give up smoking, they have claimed.

In February last year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Health Minister was hoping to ban the display of tobacco products in shops.

Northern Ireland’s politicians gave their support to the proposals in March but there has not yet been a public consultation, which is required before the ban can be legally imposed.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Ulster Cancer Foundation (UCF) believe Stormont has been dragging its feet on the issue compared to its UK counterparts, where they are moving ahead with a ban on ‘Point of Sale’ displays and in the Republic where a ban has been in force for almost a year.

Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at UCF, said: “There are about 2,500 completely preventable deaths related to tobacco in Northern Ireland every year which equates to about seven deaths every day.

“The tobacco industry needs to replace those people and the people who do manage to give up to continue to remain profitable and one of the ways that is achieved is through advertising at point of sale.

“We know through our work in the charity that smokers trying to give up are more likely to relapse because they go into a shop to buy something and see the cigarette displays, while research has also found Point of Sale advertising of cigarettes normalises tobacco use for children.

“About a quarter of the adult

population in Northern Ireland smokes, it is an epidemic. Tobacco kills 50% of the people who smoke. To illustrate this, if you take 1,000 children who take up smoking and continue through their lifetime, one of them will be murdered, six will die on the roads and 500 will die from smoking.”

With just two Executive meetings left before the summer recess — one of the meetings is taking place today — BHF and UCF are calling on the Executive to immediately publish the delayed tobacco regulations for consultation.

Both charities have fought hard for these policies and are concerned that further delays could seriously endanger implementation this side of an Assembly election and possibly derail the legislation altogether.

Marjory Burns, BHF Northern Ireland director, said: “Children can and do buy cigarettes from vending machines and they are influenced by tobacco marketing in shops. That is why we’ve written to all MLAs asking for their urgent help in getting these crucial regulations moved by the Executive before the recess.

“Any delay could allow the tobacco industry even more opportunities to market its lethal products to another generation of our children.”

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