High Court upholds bid to ban cigarette machines

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The Independent Online

Government plans to ban cigarette vending machines to help prevent under-age smoking were upheld as lawful by the High Court today.

Vending machine operators are considering an appeal, saying the death of their multimillion-pound industry will lead to mass redundancies.

The National Association of Cigarette Machine Operators (NACHO) argued there was absolutely no need to impose the ban as it had designed and developed a fail-safe radio frequency system which "locked" machines and prevented minors from making a purchase.

But a judge ruled against the operators.

Sir Anthony May, president of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, said it was well known that Government legislative policy in recent years was to discourage people from smoking tobacco and "to take progressive measures to reduce its harmful and destructive effect".

He declared: "In the present case, the ban was appropriate to attain the legislative aim which I have identified, and did not go beyond what was necessary, given the Parliamentary judgment that a scheme for age restriction technology was inadequate."

The judge rejected an application by Sinclair Collis Ltd, a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco Ltd, seeking to overturn the proposed ban, due to be introduced on October 1 2011.

The application was supported by members of NACHO.

Sinclair Collis challenged the legality of provisions of the Health Act 2009 and the Protection from Tobacco (Sales from Vending Machines) Regulations 2010.

Dinah Rose QC, for the company, argued both the Act and the regulations contravened EU law.

The judge said it was obvious that measures aimed at reducing smoking were likely to damage businesses or individuals who made money out of the manufacture or sale of cigarettes.

The proposed ban would adversely affect about 50,000 vending machines in the UK and some 550 people directly employed in the industry, with several hundred more employed by suppliers. Sinclair Lewis owned about 20,000 machines, with the rest owned by independent operators.

The judge said cigarettes from machines cost substantially more than those sold in shops or supermarkets, and a vending machine in a pub could provide the publican with an annual royalty of £300-£700.

The machines also provided a secure point of sale in hotels, bars, nightclubs and bingo halls.

Estimated turnover of the industry in 2004 was £434 million, although there was clear evidence that it had declined significantly since then, said the judge.

NACHO had estimated that the annual gross margin of the industry was approximately £102 million.

But the judge ruled the general interest in domestic and EU law in the protection of human health meant the ban was "neither manifestly unreasonable or inappropriate".