Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Radio controlled vending machines

The National Association of Cigarette Machine Operators has been hit by bans on its vending machines both by Westminster and Holyrood and the machines are expected to go out of commission in October 2011. This means that in future years youngsters will be unable to obtain 16 tabs for the price of 23, but the powers that be clearly feel that they will be thereby less tempted to buy cigarettes.

NACMO has created a vending machine that works by radio control, following age verification. Once the machine is turned on, it allows only one sale before it turns itself off again and must be reactivated from behind the bar before any further use.

I witnessed the final debate at Holyrood when the Scottish Parliaments passed the display ban and vending machine legislation (to a round of applause!) as part of the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill (quite how the display of tobacco was connected with primary medical services was not made clear). A Labour MSP Rhoda Grant proposed an amendment to allow a trial of radio controlled vending machines in Scotland. None of her party supported it, and when the Conservatives pushed it to a vote, she voted against it. Michael Matheson SNP's statement was telling: 'we have no robust evidence to demonstrate that remote-controlled vending machines are a much more secure way of ensuring that young people cannot access cigarettes'. 

Even the fact that these machines are standard in many European countries and the premium rates charged on top of the UK's rather atrocious retail prices for tobacco would not convince him that stinging operations on vending machines did not reflect where youngsters actually buy their baccy. If the machines are removed it only means that the most expensive choice of cigarettes will be taken off the market.

As for 'no robust evidence'? How about this quotation taken directly from the Stage 1 report by Mary Scanlon (Conservative): 
The Committee notes that strong views were advanced on both sides of the debate. The Committee also recognises that the evidence base for this proposal is at an early stage and that the international evidence to date is inconclusive.
Ms Scanlon points out that there is no evidence base to support the entire Bill (that part relating to tobacco). Yet Mr Matheson quibbles about knowing whether a machine works, even when being asked to consider running a trial. Little difference between this and 'no robust evidence'. 

Isn't that always the answer: any technology that offers a solution that might prevent a ban 'won't work'. Not ventilation. Not radio-controlled vending machines.

The Scottish Government and many of the parliamentarians seem quite myopic on this issue. The present initiative described in the Morning Advertiser is directed at Westminster, and time will only tell whether they will come to the conclusion that there is no need to ban vending machines. 

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