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HOLYROOD’S battle to cut the number of smokers and the burden they place on the health service takes a further step next month.

From April 1 it will be against the law for anyone under 18 to buy tobacco products or cigarette paper, and to sell those items to them.

Anyone under 18 in possession of tobacco or papers in a public place who refuses to hand them over to police will also be breaking the law.

Breaching the law means a spot fine or possible prosecution and a criminal record.

Retailers in Scotland will have to sign the Tobacco Retail Register by October 1 or face six months in jail and a £20,000 fine.

It’s reckoned the legislation will affect about 47,000 under-18s.

The number of Scottish smokers is falling but tobacco kills about 13,500 Scots each year, is responsible for 33,500 hospital admissions and cost the NHS about £400m.

Scotland’s public health minister, Shona Robson commented: “Stopping smoking is the biggest single thing anyone can do to improve their health. We already made progress – notably by banning smoking in public places, raising the age for buying cigarettes to 18 and, most recently, passing legislation that will bring an end to cigarette displays in shops and sales from vending machines.

“The number of smokers in Scotland continues to decline and these new rules will help to make it more difficult for under 18s to smoke.”

Scottish factfile

z Almost 13,500 people die each year from smoking-related diseases.

z Around 15,000 young people take up smoking each year

z An estimated 47,000 under-18s smoke.

z About 80 per cent of smokers start in their teens.

z Smoking among 15-year-olds has declined since its peak in 1996 from 30 per cent for both boys and girls to 14 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

z Someone who starts smoking at 15 is three times more likely to die of cancer caused by smoking than someone who starts in their mid-20s.

z 12 per cent of 15-year-olds in the least deprived areas reported are regular smokers, 29 per cent in the most deprived.

z Young people find it easy to buy cigarettes illegally ‑ 57 per cent of 15-year-olds and 42 per cent of 13-year-olds buy their own cigarettes from shops.

Sources: NHS Health Scotland & ASH Scotland :An Atlas of Tobacco Smoking in Scotland : 2007; Scottish Executive: Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey National Report 2008; Department of Health: Smoking Kills: A White Paper on Tobacco: 1998