Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, has announced an eight-week consultation on regulations to be made under the Tobacco Retailer Act (Northern Ireland) 2014.
The Tobacco Retailers Act was passed by the Assembly last year and contains a number of provisions aimed at reducing the availability of tobacco products to children and young people under the age of 18. These include:
- requiring all tobacco retailers to register
- allowing for the application of tobacco banning orders by enforcement officers if three relevant tobacco-related offences are committed within five years
- creating a number of new offences, including those relating to the register and the offence of proxy purchasing
- allowing for the application of fixed penalty notices for a number of tobacco-related offences
Mr Hamilton said: "Smoking is a major contributing factor for a number of illnesses including heart disease, cancers and stroke. As well as placing a huge burden on our health service, it also causes untold suffering for thousands of families in Northern Ireland each year.
"It is well known that most people take up smoking before they are of an age to fully understand the long-term consequences of their actions. Preventing children and young people from adopting this life-limiting habit is key if we are to make any significant inroads into our smoking prevalence rates."
According to a recent survey, around one in five adults in Northern Ireland are regular smokers. This figure rises to around one in three in areas of deprivation. In spite of legislation which makes it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco to under-18s, this law is flouted on a regular basis.
Test purchasing exercises carried out by environmental health officers found that around 12% of premises sold tobacco products to children over the past three years. The new measures, to be introduced later this year, will see tougher sanctions aimed at non-compliant retailers including on-the-spot fines for a number of offences as well as an increase in the maximum fine applicable for underage sales following prosecution.
The consultation will seek views on the levels of on-the-spot fines being proposed as well as information required to be provided by retailers for the new tobacco retailers’ register.
Notes to editors:
- The consultation will run from 9 July 2015 to 4 September 2015.
- The consultation document
- Smoking kills around 2,300 people in Northern Ireland each year. Smoking prevalence for adults is currently 22% and 5% of 11-16 year olds are current smokers. Half of all regular smokers die as a result of a smoking-related illness.
- The draft regulations form part of a wider tobacco control strategy aimed at reducing the uptake of smoking by children and young people. Other recent measures include banning displays of tobacco products at point of sale in shops, banning sales of tobacco from vending machines and, from May 2016, the introduction of standardised packaging.
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