LONDON -- The vending division of the UK's largest tobacco maker will challenge the British government's impending cigarette vending machine ban. Imperial Tobacco Group Plc this week said its subsidiary, Sinclair Collins, will seek a judicial review of the ban that goes into effect throughout Britain in October 2011.
Imperial, which sells Lambert & Butler and Richmond cigarettes in Britain and commands around 45% of the market, says the ban is disproportionate and unnecessary. It argues that vending machines are largely located in age-restricted venues, such as pubs and clubs, and only account for around 1% of the cigarette sales market.
Sinclair Collins, based in Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands, operates around 20,000 vending machines in Britain, employs 174 people.
"We do not want children to smoke, and supported the government's proposal to stop underage access through the introduction of electronic ID cards, token mechanisms and remote control technology," Imperial chief executive Gareth Davis said in a statement.
"These are effective solutions which have been implemented in a number of other countries," Davis added, "and it is a matter of great regret that the UK government ultimately chose to disregard all of these options in favor of a ban that will result in significant job losses in the vending industry."
The National Association of Cigarette Machine Operators, which represents companies that manufacture and place tobacco venders in the UK, says it has 55 members supporting 580 jobs that generate £275 million annually.
After the Parliament approved the machine ban in November 2009, NACMO northern chairman Rod Bullough said: "We do not condone smoking and would support any genuine attempt to reduce smoking among young people, but we feel our industry is being made a scapegoat. The ban will wipe out a legitimate business sector and result in considerable job losses as well as being another kick in the teeth for the pubs and clubs."
The UK's smoking bans, which apply to pubs, went into effect in 2007. (Bans were introduced in each country of the United Kingdom separately as decided by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the UK Parliament acting for England.)
As for its fight against the machine ban, NACMO cites data that show the number of 13- to 15-year-old smokers who say that tobacco vending machines as a source of cigarettes has declined in recent years, from 22% in 2000 to 10% in 2006. The measures proposed by the ban, therefore, will only affect a small part of the smoking population, the association said. It recommends targeting other sources of tobacco for young people, mainly the illicit distribution and sale of contraband tobacco, proxy purchasing on behalf of young people and sales by irresponsible retailers.
The vending machine ban is part UK's Health Act 2009, which may also require generic labels on cigarettes. In early February, the UK government said it would "carefully consider" banning any branding on cigarette packages.
This plan would build on existing rules that prohibit smoking in public places and provide free smoking-cessation programs. In addition to the plain packaging and vender ban proposals, the government said it will consider another hike in tobacco taxes and prevent retail displays of tobacco products. The display of tobacco is illegal in Canada, where convenience stores are now forced to essentially hide product behind curtains or in drawers out of sight of the customers.
The Tobacco Manufacturers Association, which represents tobacco firms in the UK, argues that the removal of tobacco displays will actually facilitate illicit trade. TMA says that "rigorous application of proof of age requirements" is the best deterrent of sales to underage smokers.
If passed in the UK, the move to ban cigarette displays at points of sale will affect supermarkets starting in 2011 and small stores in 2013.