Children are less likely to smoke now that shops have been banned from displaying cigarettes, research suggests.
A study found the number of 11 to 16-year-olds taking up the habit fell by 35 per cent after the ban was phased in across the UK between 2012 and 2015.
With shops being forced to store cigarettes out of sight, youngsters are also less aware of different tobacco brands and more likely to find smoking unacceptable.
Nearly three quarters of children (72 per cent) now say they don’t even notice whether cigarettes are on sale behind the counter.
Experts believe ‘out of sight, out of mind’ stops ‘Big Tobacco luring the next generation of smokers into the deadly habit’.
Children are less likely to smoke now that shops are banned from displaying cigarettes (stock)
The research was carried out by the University of Stirling and led by Dr Allison Ford, a research fellow in the Institute for Social Marketing.
‘This is the first study to show the impacts of a tobacco point-of-sale display ban on young people across the UK before, during and after implementation,’ Dr Ford said.
‘Our work confirms placing tobacco out of sight helps safeguard young people. Our findings help to justify this policy approach in the UK and elsewhere.
‘Both partial and full implementation of the display ban were followed by statistically significant reductions in youth smoking susceptibility and noticing cigarettes at point-of-sale.’
Smoking is on the decline in the UK with just one in six adults now regularly lighting up and 680,000 giving up the habit completely in 2016.
The proportion of adults who were smokers dropped from 19.9 per cent in 2010 to just 15.5 per cent in 2016 in England alone, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
And this decline is occurring across all ages, with the largest fall in 18 to 24-year-olds.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, claims the UK has the second lowest smoking rate in Europe after Sweden, which he said proves tobacco-control policies are working.
Since the ‘highly effective’ public smoking ban was introduced in 2007, the Government has also raised the tax of cheap tobacco, enforced minimum-sized health warnings on cigarette packaging and phased out packs that contain just ten cigarettes, all in an effort to encourage people to ditch the habit.
To uncover how banning cigarette displays has influenced smoking rates, the researchers interviewed 3,791 young people – including 2,953 who had never smoked – before, during and after the policy was implemented.
Results – published in the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control – revealed the number of the participants who smoked before the ban fell from 28 per cent to 23 per cent midway through its phasing in.
This then decreased again to 18 per cent after the ban was established.
Some 81 per cent of the youngsters noticed cigarettes were displayed by tills before the ban, which went down to just 28 per cent after.
And cigarette brand awareness also fell, with the average number youngsters were able to name dropping from 0.97 to 0.69.
The researchers also quizzed the children about their perception of tobacco throughout the introduction of the regulations.
‘We also found young never-smokers’ support for a display ban was very high,’ Dr Ford said.
‘For example, post-ban, 90 per cent of never smokers aged 11 to 16 years supported the display ban while 77 per cent indicated it made cigarettes seem unappealing and 87 per cent that it made smoking seem unacceptable.’
Kruti Shrotri, tobacco control manager at Cancer Research UK, which sponsored the study, said: ‘Glitzy displays and glamorous packaging helped the tobacco industry lure the next generation of smokers into taking up a deadly addiction.
‘But contrary to ‘Big Tobacco’s’ belief that banning displays would make no difference, this study shows by putting cigarettes out of sight and out of mind far fewer youngsters are taking up the deathly habit.’
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, added: ‘Banning the display of tobacco products at point-of-sale has worked and it’s fabulous more young people are now turning their backs on smoking, literally saving thousands of lives.’
THE UK GOVERNMENT’S MEASURES TO STOP PEOPLE TAKING UP SMOKING
Billboard advertising of tobacco was banned in the UK in 2003.
And in 2007, smoking in public places was prohibited to protect people from the dangers of second hand smoking.
This was found to be ‘highly effective’, with an ‘immediate’ reduction in the number of children being hospitalised for asthma, according to the department of health.
Off the back of this success, the Government extended this legislation to cover private vehicles carrying children from October 2015.
In 2016, the Government set out to tackle access to cheap tobacco, which included increasing the tax on hand-rolling tobacco by an additional three per cent.
The same year saw the introduction of the Tobacco Products Directive in the UK.
Among other things, this enforced minimum sized health warnings on cigarette packaging.
Plain packaging was also introduced, which removed all promotional materials from the label, such as two-for-one deals.
It also ensured the brand name was presented in a standardised way, with the same font, size and case text.
Manufacturers were also told all tobacco packets had to be an olive-green colour.
The drab brown hue was selected due to it being the shade that most puts off buyers, research has shown.
Australia introduced similar measures in 2012 and saw the number of people taking up smoking fall by 0.5 per cent by 2016.
If the same decline were to occur in the UK, Cancer Research UK estimated it would equate to 257,000 fewer smokers.
The legislation also required packets to contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes, with ten packs being phased out.
This was to ensure the pack is large enough to contain health warnings that cover 65 per cent of the front and back.
The health warning also has to appear in photo and text form.
And there must be an information message on the side, such as ‘tobacco smoke contains over 70 substances known to cause cancer’.
In 2017 new legislation made it illegal to sell branded cigarettes in the UK.
A complete ban on menthol-flavoured cigarettes is set for May 2020, with other tastes already being prohibited, such as fruit and vanilla.