Scotland politics

Scotland tobacco display ban to be delayed

Image caption Ministers said the display ban would help stop young people taking up smoking

The Scottish government has been forced to further delay its ban on displaying tobacco in big supermarkets because of a legal challenge.

The measure was supposed to come into force in large stores from April, but ministers have been taken to court by Imperial Tobacco.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said the date for its introduction would be announced in due course.

He also cited other changes in the legislation as a reason for the delay.

Supermarkets would still be allowed to sell cigarettes and tobacco but they would have to be cleared from the shelves and put "under the counter" after the Scottish Parliament passed the new laws at the start of 2010.

The rules were due to begin for larger retailers in October 2011.

But an appeal by Imperial Tobacco against a court decision dismissing its original challenge meant the legislation, which aims to stop young people taking up smoking, could not be used.

Mr Matheson said a "prudent" decision was made to defer the measure.

Imperial Tobacco, which says the ban is disproportionate and has no proven link to cutting child smoking, brought its legal action on the basis that the Scottish Parliament has no powers to pass the measure, because regulations on the sale of goods in Scotland are reserved to Westminster.

The case was previously dismissed by the Court of Session in Edinburgh, but is now under appeal.

In England, new laws to move cigarettes under the counter in supermarkets will come into force in April.

The Scottish display ban is one of several measures contained in the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Act, which also bans cigarette vending machines and introduces £200 fines for those who sell tobacco to under-18s.

The vending machine ban has also been putting on hold, pending legal challenge.

In addition to the display ban, the Scottish government had originally proposed restricting the size of the space used for the sale transaction so that only an area the size of one cigarette packet would be could be opened in the store cabinet.

But ministers have now amended this to an area the size of about 12 packets, still much smaller than the rules in England.

The public health minister said: "We recognise some retailers had concerns about the practicalities of limiting the display size during a sale.

"We have listened and believe we have now struck an appropriate balance between making cigarettes less attractive and the views of retailers.

"Following these discussions, and bearing in mind the need to notify the new Regulations to the EU and the fact of the ongoing legal proceedings, we feel it is prudent to defer the ban from the original implementation date for large stores to a date to be announced."

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "The display ban is the right thing to do and Scottish Labour supports it.

"It is a shame that the tobacco companies are still trying to block it. We need to be ready to proceed as soon as the legal challenge finishes and there should be no undue delay."

Despite the delay in banning tobacco displays in large stores, the measure is coming into force for small shops in 2015, as planned.

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