Banning shops from displaying cigarettes has made children less likely to start smoking, research suggests.
The first study into the impact of the ban revealed the risk of 11 to 16-year olds taking up smoking dropped, children were less aware of cigarette brands and smoking is now seen as less acceptable.
The ban on the open display of tobacco products was phased in across the UK between 2012 and 2015, forcing stores to put them out of sight.
Before, during and after the implementation of the full ban, researchers from the University of Stirling canvassed 3,791 young people – including 2,953 who had never smoked – about the effect of the policy.
The Cancer Research-sponsored study found that smoking susceptibility among those who had never smoked fell from 28% pre-ban to 23% mid-ban, and 18% post-ban.
Noticing cigarettes at the point-of-sale also fell from 81% pre-ban to 28% post-ban, while cigarette brand awareness also reduced, with the average number of cigarette brands youngsters were able to name dropping from 0.97 to 0.69.
Lead researcher Dr Allison Ford, from Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing, said: “This is the first study to show the impacts of a tobacco point-of-sale display ban on young people across the UK before, during and after implementation.
“Our work confirms that placing tobacco out of sight helps safeguard young people. Our findings help to justify this policy approach in the UK and elsewhere.
“Both partial and full implementation of the display ban were followed by statistically significant reductions in youth smoking susceptibility and noticing cigarettes at point-of-sale.”
Published in the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control, the study also quizzed children about perceptions of tobacco throughout the introduction of the regulations.
Dr Ford added: “We also found that young never smokers’ support for a display ban was very high.
“For example, post-ban, 90% of never smokers aged 11 to 16 years supported the display ban while 77% indicated that it made cigarettes seem unappealing and 87% that it made smoking seem unacceptable.”
Kruti Shrotri, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control manager, said: “Glitzy displays and glamorous packaging helped the tobacco industry to lure the next generation of smokers into taking up a deadly addiction.
“But contrary to Big Tobacco’s belief that banning displays would make no difference, this study shows that by putting cigarettes out of sight and out of mind far fewer youngsters are taking up the deathly habit.”
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “Banning the display of tobacco products at point-of-sale has worked and it’s fabulous that more young people are now turning their backs on smoking, literally saving thousands of lives.”