BMA Scotland has on Friday published a five point action plan aimed at tackling teen smoking. Doctors' leaders are calling on the Scottish Government to implement the plan to support the forthcoming purchase age increase for tobacco sales. The recommendations, including banning tobacco vending machines and prohibiting the sale of ten packs of cigarettes, would help enforce the age increase by reducing the availability of cigarettes to young people.
In Scotland in 2006, figures showed that 4% of 13 year olds and 15% of 15 year olds were regular smokers. Most smokers begin in adolescence and the younger someone starts smoking, the less likely they are to give up. Smaller packs of cigarettes are cheaper and therefore more appealing to younger people. Similarly, vending machines are often used by young people to buy cigarettes because there are no age checks in place. With more than 13,000 people dying every year in Scotland from tobacco use, the equivalent of 35 a day, more must be done to discourage young people from taking up smoking in the first place.
Dr Andrew Buist, a member of the BMA's Scottish Council, said, "The BMA has long called for the minimum age of tobacco sales to be raised from 16 to 18 and welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to this. This measure will convey the important social message that tobacco is harmful and limit the availability of cigarettes to young people.
"However, the age increase is only one step in reducing young people's access to tobacco. We must do all we can to stop youngsters getting hooked in the first place. Young people often buy cigarettes from vending machines because of the lack of age checks or they buy packs of ten because they are cheaper. Addressing these two issues would significantly reduce the availability of cigarettes to young people.
"There is evidence to suggest that the existing age limit regarding tobacco sales is not always properly enforced, which raises questions as to how effectively the age increase will be policed. If the new law is to be effective, we need stricter point of sales enforcement, supported by a wider strategy to reduce young people's access to tobacco products.
"The BMA would like to see serious consideration given to other means of reducing young people's access to tobacco supported by long term investment in educational services to prevent young people starting smoking and assist those wishing to stop.
"Too many people begin smoking during childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood. Only through a multifaceted range of measures will we be able to tackle the biggest preventable cause of death in Scotland."
The Action Plan calls upon the Scottish Government to implement the following measures:
1. Tobacco vending machines should be banned.
Vending machines are often used by young people to buy cigarettes because there are no age checks in place. The banning of cigarette vending machines would reduce the outlets available to young people and therefore restrict their access to cigarettes.
2. Legislation to prohibit the sale of packs of 10 cigarettes should be introduced.
Recent data has shown that many underage smokers buy their cigarettes in packs of ten cigarettes. Smaller packs are cheaper and therefore more appealing to younger people. Prohibiting the sale of ten cigarettes is a necessary step to manage the availability of cigarettes to young people.
3. A positive licensing scheme, already in place for shops that wish to sell alcohol, should be introduced to support the implementation of the age increase.
It is clear that if sellers are not being prosecuted for selling to underage people at the moment then a negative licensing system to enforce the age increase is not a workable solution. Retailers should be encouraged to stop selling to underage children by the introduction of a licence to sell cigarettes, which would be removed for persistent offenders.
4. Cigarettes should not be displayed at the point of sale.
In order to support the tobacco advertising ban that was introduced in the UK in 2003, the advertisement of tobacco products at point of sale should also be prohibited. Such displays at point of sale normalise tobacco use, especially when the packs are placed next to everyday items.
5. Long term investment in comprehensive and targeted smoking prevention and cessation services.
The recommendations outlined above will not solve the problem if implemented in isolation. This range of measures must be introduced and supported by continual investment in smoking prevention and cessation services in order to tackle the attitudes of young people towards smoking.