It’s been a long time coming but Scotland is finally covering up tobacco displays in large shops and banning unstaffed tobacco vending machines.
We all say we want to protect children from smoking and these are restrictions on the way tobacco is sold in order to do that:
– Large, bright tobacco displays are a clear form of promotion, and it is right that supermarket adverts should go the same way as tv and newspaper adverts
– unstaffed vending machines were an easy route for children to obtain tobacco
The merits of these measures, and the evidence supporting them, were given full airing as the Bill passed through Parliament. The various interests affected were given every opportunity to present their arguments. MSPs weighed up the evidence presented to them and passed the measures by the small margin of, err, 108 votes to 15.
So the genuine welcome we extend to these measures is tempered by real anger that it could take 1,188 days for agreed child protection measures to be implemented.
That anger must be directed at Imperial Tobacco (makers of JPS and Golden Virginia) who clearly disbelieved their own stated position that the measures would make no difference, put their own financial interests before the health of young people and sued the Government in every court they could find.
That process ended with five of our most senior judges, at the UK Supreme Court, making a unanimous ruling that the Scottish Government did indeed have the right to put public profit before commercial interest and legislate for well evidenced public health measures.
All well and good, but what other child protection measure could be held up for so long by the companies who profit from the problem?
Let us take one lesson from this debate – nobody has the right to sell tobacco in a way that makes it attractive to children, or that allows children access to it. It should not take years of legal wrangling to tell us that.
A responsible company would accept that selling a lethal, addictive substance should come with restrictions. Clearly Imperial Tobacco has decided not to be a responsible company.
More interesting is the choice faced by retailer lobby groups – associate themselves with the tobacco industry and oppose any public health measure that the industry believes will threaten its profits? Or accept that decreasing smoking rates over time is a valid public health goal and support their members in using that time to diversify to other products which cause less harm to the communities they serve?