Imperial Tobacco fails to block ban on cigarette displays in Scotland

One of the world’s biggest tobacco firms has lost its second legal challenge against legislation in Scotland designed to prevent young people from starting to smoke.

Imperial Tobacco has sought to overturn a ban on the open display of cigarettes in shops and their sale in vending machines. It argued that the Scottish parliament does not have the power to make such a change, as regulations on the sale of goods in Scotland are matters for Westminster.

Vending Machine

Cigarette vending machine

That argument was rejected by the Scottish courts last year (BMJ 2011;342:d581, doi:10.1136/bmj.d581), but Imperial Tobacco decided to appeal, which delayed the ban’s implementation. That appeal has now been unanimously dismissed by three senior judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The judges accepted that Scotland had the power to pass legislation to protect the health of its citizens. Lord Hamilton, Scotland’s senior judge who delivered the ruling, also said it was “not without significance” that Westminster has already made equivalent measures for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

No date has been set for the ban to be introduced in Scotland, as Imperial Tobacco has not ruled out taking a fresh appeal to the Supreme Court in London. A spokesman for the company said that it would need to look at the judgment in detail before making a decision. “Clearly we’re disappointed. We’ll be reviewing the judgment with a view to appealing it,” he said.

A separate legal challenge to the ban on cigarette vending machines in Scotland has been raised by Sinclair Collis, the UK’s largest operator of vending machines, which is still before the courts.

The latest defeat for the tobacco companies was warmly welcomed by Scotland’s public health minister, Michael Matheson, who said that implementation of the measures would play a “crucial role” in preventing youngsters from starting to smoke.

“Each year in Scotland 15 000 children and young people start smoking, and the potential impact on their health is frightening,” he said. “A child who starts smoking at 15 or younger is three times more likely to die of cancer as a result than someone who starts smoking in their mid-20s.”

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of the antismoking group ASH Scotland condemned Imperial Tobacco’s action. “This was a typically cynical attempt to undermine our democratically elected Scottish parliament, years of accumulated research evidence, and the wellbeing of the Scottish people, purely to protect their own profits,” she said.

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