BREXIT risks leaving Scotland more vulnerable to the threat of tobacco industry lobbying, it has been warned.

ASH Scotland – a charity which aims to combat the harm caused by smoking – said global tobacco giants could exploit economic arguments to gain influence.

But it also argued the UK’s exit from the European Union could make it easier to introduce minimum tobacco pricing or even limit the amount supplied in the UK.

Giving evidence to a Holyrood committee, the charity said: “More generally, there is the risk that the UK could be more vulnerable to the threat of tobacco industry lobbying, particularly in a hard Brexit focused on deregulation.

“This could take the form of an economic argument – as two of the four largest transnational tobacco companies (British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco) are based in the UK, they may seek to argue that their economic contribution should outweigh their disastrous impact on world health, particularly in the event of significant economic changes after leaving the UK.

“In light of the devastating impact of tobacco on human health and well-being – and the attendant costs of healthcare – this argument should be dismissed.”

ASH Scotland said leaving the single market could remove restrictions on market interventions, making it easier to introduce minimum pricing.

It said opportunities for importing tobacco without paying UK duty could also be reduced.

The charity added: “It must be recognised explicitly in any trade deal that public health measures in general and tobacco control measures in particular are legitimate health policies, whether or not they affect the financial returns of industry.”