Removing displays of tobacco products from shops may significantly reduce the number of children buying cigarettes, a study has found.
The research, from Imperial College London (ICL) in the UK, assessed survey responses from 18,000 11-15 year olds across England between 2010 and 2016.
The findings suggest tobacco display bans may have an important role in reducing the number of child smokers.
However, the study also suggested that more than two in three child smokers had not been refused cigarettes when they last attempted to buy them – a figure that remained unchanged between 2010-2016.
Majority of child smokers said it was easy to buy cigarettes in shops. This rose slightly from 61 per cent in 2010 to 65 per cent in 2016.
In 2015 the display of cigarettes was banned in all shops in the UK. Before this, 57 per cent of children who smoked regularly bought their cigarettes in shops.
However the latest study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, revealed this fell to 40 per cent by 2016.
“We know that smoking kills one in every two smokers, and that children who smoke are likely to continue smoking throughout their lifetime, seriously increasing their risk of disease,” said Anthony Laverty, from ICL.
“We also know seeing cigarettes displayed in shops is linked to smoking, especially among children. This research shows that removing displays made tobacco less visible to children, and that fewer of them bought cigarettes there,” said Laverty.
“Most countries worldwide still allow cigarettes to be advertised and displayed in shops. This research provides evidence that the introduction of display bans will be an effective measure against children smoking — and could help save them from starting a deadly habit,” she said.
The researchers analysed data from the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Survey — an anonymous questionnaire that quizzes 11-15 year old children across England, and is conducted at schools under exam conditions.
The findings also showed that among the children who smoked, the most common source of cigarettes was from friends, followed by shops.
The team acknowledged that other measures were put in place between 2010-2016 that may have helped reduce smokingrates, such as the ban on cigarette vending machines and higher taxes.
“During this time adult smoking rates have fallen and higher taxes have increased the price of tobacco,” Laverty said.
“All these factors have a role to play, and these findings suggest removing cigarettedisplays are an important component. Smoking rates fall fastest when complimentary measures are put in place,” she said.