One of the world’s biggest tobacco firms has taken a fight against the Scottish Government’s planned cigarette display ban to the UK’s highest court.
Imperial Tobacco is challenging the attempt to ban the open display of cigarettes in shops in Scotland at the Supreme Court in London.
Lawyers representing Imperial, which is based in Bristol, asked a panel of five Supreme Court justices to analyse issues after twice failing to persuade Scottish judges to set aside legislative provisions.
The hearing is due to end later this week and justices are expected to reserve judgment to a later date.
Ministers say display bans are needed to protect future generations from the “devastating effects” of smoking.
Imperial says there is no credible evidence that display bans have cut tobacco consumption.
And the firm argues that the legislative provisions dealing with display bans fall outside the scope of the Scottish Government and are matters reserved for the UK parliament.
Imperial, the firm behind the Lambert & Butler and Richmond cigarette brands, is also opposing a ban on tobacco vending machines.
The company’s civil court challenge has delayed the implementation of measures aimed at stopping people smoking.
Ministers had intended to introduce the display ban in April in large shops in Scotland, which was the first part of the UK to adopt a ban on smoking in some public places.
Imperial initially sought a judicial review of ministers’ plans for display bans. A judge in Scotland ruled against the firm in September 2010. Imperial appealed, but three judges rejected the challenge in February.
That decision was welcomed by Scotland’s public health minister, Michael Matheson, who said the proposals would play a “crucial role” in preventing youngsters from starting to smoke. But Imperial voiced disappointment and has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Five Supreme Court justices – Lord Hope, Lord Walker, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lord Sumption – are hearing legal argument.
Earlier this year, an Imperial spokesman said the firm’s stance on display bans remained clear.
“There is no credible evidence that display bans have reduced tobacco consumption or youth smoking in the few countries where they’ve been introduced,” he said.
“They go against the principle of adult choice, they are anti-competitive and they place an unnecessary cost burden on retailers. Display bans will not result in substantial volume declines, but they lead to longer in-store transaction times and shopper frustration.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “In the face of tobacco industry challenges to the act, we will continue to defend the legislation.”