Cigarette machines ban may be unlawful

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ONE of the Scottish Government's last remaining flagship bills is in trouble because of a lack of consultation and poor research, it has been claimed.

The Tobacco and Primary Services Bill aims to abolish cigarette vending machines in Scotland, but it is facing a fierce challenge from the industry, which could end up in the courts.

The National Association of Cigarette Machine Operators (Nacmo) has claimed that it was not consulted before the bill was brought forward.

In addition, its representatives have said that the Scottish Government has used incorrect data on the number of vending machines in Scotland and jobs affected.

The Scottish Government regulatory impact assessment claimed only 14 jobs were supported by cigarette machines in Scotland, yet there are actually 45 jobs.

And it overestimated the number of vending machines in Scotland, claiming there were 6,522 when in fact there are around 3,500.

The organisation has also attacked the Scottish Government for using English data about underage smokers to back up its arguments, and not collecting Scottish figures.

McGrigors, the legal firm representing Nacmo, has warned that if the measure goes ahead in the bill and is passed by MSPs then there would probably be a legal challenge through a judicial review.

Paul Mair, chairman of Nacmo, is due to give evidence at Wednesday's Health Committee meeting in Holyrood.

"The trouble is that vending machines were just seen as an easy target," he said.

"There was no consultation until we found out what was going on."

He added that any decision, even if it was delayed, would lead to the 14 companies operating vending machines in Scotland going bust overnight.

"The banks would immediately withdraw their credit and that would be it," he said. "These are family companies not big conglomerates."

He said that a radio frequency system can be attached to machines that forces purchasers to prove their age.

The Minister for Public Health, Shona Robison, has already had to write to the Health Committee admitting to masking mistakes. Now she has also admitted that the ban on vending machines, one of the headline measures of the bill, will have to be reviewed.

"The proposed ban on cigarette vending machines needs to be viewed within the context of the impact the business has on the nation's health," she said.