Children will find it more difficult to buy cigarettes as vending machines selling tobacco are now officially banned in England.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), around 200,000 young people start smoking regularly in England each year and 11% of 11 to 15-year-old regular smokers in England and Wales get their cigarettes from vending machines.
The charity, which has been campaigning for the ban to cut off the easy source of tobacco, said more than half (56%) of trading standards test purchases with under-age volunteers resulted in successful sales from vending machines in 2010/11.
Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said: “With the tobacco industry increasingly reliant on young smokers to bolster their profit margins, they’re fighting tooth and nail to stop any changes that might hit their bottom line.
“It’s more important than ever that we face down their protestations and protect our children from this deadly addiction.
“We’re encouraging landlords to remove machines completely now so they - and any left-over branding - don’t act as dusty old adverts for tobacco.”
The ban, which makes it illegal to sell tobacco from vending machines and requires landlords to ensure all tobacco advertising on the machines is removed, comes into force in England today. Northern Ireland intends to implement a ban from February 1 2012, and both Scotland and Wales have committed to introducing a ban.
Other measures to protect young people from the dangers of smoking are also on the way.
In April 2012 large retailers in England and Scotland will have to get rid of all tobacco displays and small shops will be expected to comply from April 2015. Wales and Northern Ireland also plan to implement similar regulations.
The UK government is due to begin a public consultation before the end of the year on whether to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes which would lessen their marketing appeal to young people, help to make health warnings more effective and, alongside other measures, help to reduce the number of smokers in the long-term.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Smoking is one of the biggest and most stubborn challenges in public health. Over eight million people in England still smoke and it causes more than 80,000 deaths each year.
“Cigarette vending machines are often unsupervised, making it easy for children to purchase cigarettes from them.
“The ban on cigarette sales from vending machines will protect children by making cigarettes less accessible to them - we want to do everything we can to encourage young people not to start smoking in the first place.”