A ban on vending machines selling cigarettes in Northern Ireland will be in place in a matter of months in a move that is expected to save thousands of lives. The new legislation is to come into force on March 1 and it is hoped this will cut the number of children and young people who smoke, as they will no longer be able to purchase cigarettes from vending machines.
However, it will be at least three years before new laws come into place stopping small shops from openly displaying tobacco products. Restrictions on larger shops, such as supermarkets, are expected to be introduced by the end of next year.
Members at Stormont voted in favour of the legislation for vending machines at the Assembly yesterday after Health Minister Edwin Poots (right) said it would help to save lives.
He said: “A survey in Northern Ireland in 2010 highlights that for 14% of smokers aged between 11 and 16 years, cigarette vending machines are a usual source of tobacco. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable consumers in that they are generally unaware of the long-term health implications of tobacco use.
“The main aim in introducing the legislation is to prevent children and young people from being able to access tobacco from a largely unsupervised source. These regulations will also bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.”
A ban on the sale of cigarettes from vending machines is already in place in England and will come into force in Wales at the beginning of next month.
A leading health charity has welcomed the latest development but urged politicians here to work to bring further controls on the sale of tobacco as soon as possible.
Jayne Murray from the British Heart Foundation in Northern Ireland said: “Vending machines don’t ask for proof of age and are an easy route for children to tobacco.”
Smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of premature death and avoidable illness. On average it kills six people each day in Northern Ireland – 2,300 deaths each year. Research has found the cost of smoking to society is high – in economic terms, the hospital cost of treating smoking-related illnesses in Northern Ireland is in the region of £119m each year. It is estimated that there are approximately 1,800 tobacco vending machines in Northern Ireland.