More anti-smoking measures planned

LONDON (Reuters) - The government is considering a ban on cigarette vending machines, removing cigarettes from display in shops and outlawing the sale of packets of 10, health minister Alan Johnson said on Sunday.

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In 2007, Britain joined several other countries in banning smoking in enclosed public places and the government is now keen to try and stop people starting to smoke in their teenage years.

Johnson, a smoker in his youth, said he would be launching a consultation paper on new anti-smoking measures next week.

He said 200,000 children under 16 years of age start smoking each year in Britain and the risk of premature death for them was three times higher than for people who start in their 20s.

Johnson said Scotland was right to force stores to take cigarettes off display, and that bans on cigarette vending machines in other European countries had been successful.

“I think they’re right to do that and indeed we are considering that as well and we’ll launch a consultation document on that next week,” he told the BBC.

“Banning vending machines where you can’t have any control over the age of the person who’s buying it -- it happened in many other European countries a long time ago with startling results.

“Whether you should be able to buy 10 cigarettes or whether you should insist that you can only buy 20, that’s an issue we need to look at very closely,” he said. “You should go for 20s.”

Scotland’s Public Health Minister Shona Robison unveiled plans last week to ban the display of cigarettes in shops. The Scottish plans also include outlawing packs of 10.

Anti-smoking campaigners welcomed Johnson’s plans.

“The government is to be congratulated for announcing this ambitious consultation on a comprehensive new strategy to drive down smoking, so soon after successfully implementing smoke-free legislation,” Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said in a statement.

“We welcome the focus on protecting children, as two-thirds of smokers start smoking before they reach 18, significantly increasing their risk of dying from cancer,” she said.

Editing by Catherine Evans