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Fuming in the dark

28 August, 2009
Confusion reigns in Ireland as retailers struggle to come to terms with the new regulations banning the display of tobacco. merril boulton reports
Page 10 

Forecourt retailers in the Republic of Ireland have been living with the new tobacco display ban regulations since July 1. It's early days yet, but a recent visit, care of Imperial Tobacco, revealed

that they're not best pleased.

The backdrop to the till areas generally do not look good (the photographs are flattering), and the public are confused about whether they can make their usual tobacco purchases. The retailers are also confused about what they can and can't do, and many feel inconvenienced at having to hunt around in various drawers, cupboards or boxes for tobacco products, having to remember where things are kept as there is no signage on the outside. Even sites with the ubiquitous and sophisticated vending machines - a unique feature of the Irish market, and said to be prohibitively expensive for the UK - have to store those products that don't fit into the machine this way.

Most of the retailers we visited are also convinced tobacco sales have taken a hit - some by between 10-15%. They don't believe people have given up smoking, but those sales have gone elsewhere, possibly into an even darker market - the world of conterfeit, which is a growing problem.

The Irish tobacco market is worth 1.9bn at retail selling price, but in the past 30 months an additional 1.55 of duty per 20 cigarettes has been added - that is a 20% increase on rsp since 2006. Imperial Tobacco's Irish counterpart John Player & Sons estimate there is 25-30% of non duty paid product in the market. With tobacco packs concealed in boxes, customers may be sold illegal/counterfeit product from a store without even knowing it. Also some in our party witnessed tobacco selling on the street. We were also told of scams, such as cigarette packs stuffed with tissue and re-cellophaned to look like new.

In Ireland 29% of adults still smoke - as opposed to 24% in the UK. They smoke an average of 17 cigarettes a day, and visit a shop five times a week to buy tobacco, spending 5.50 on other purchases - according to figures supplied by John Player, which is based in Dublin. The company claims 60% of tobacco buyers will go elsewhere if they can't find the brand they want. Since the new legislation means they can't see any brands, and retailers told us they were unable to mention any tobacco products beyond what the customer has requested, it's no wonder retailers seem pretty demoralised. One said: "For every person asking us if we still sell tobacco, there are probably plenty who don't bother to ask, and go elsewhere. The display reminds people to buy cigarettes, it doesn't prompt them to start smoking." One said other categories had also suffered - "buying tobacco often prompts people into making other purchases, such as drinks and sweets".

Shane Brennan, public affairs director at the Association of Convenience Stores, said: "Irish retailers are going through the confusion and disruption that could easily occur for retailers in the UK if a display ban goes through. The lack of display confuses staff and customers and the rules have created anomalies that make things more complicated. For example a retailer cannot use the word tobacco on their units or store fronts to signal to his smoking customers that he stocks cigarettes. The worrying increase in the illegal trade in Ireland over recent months shows that measures that harm retailers are doing little to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the population. Having seen the display ban first hand I remain convinced that it will not achieve the reduction in smoking by young people or adults, that advocates ask us to accept."

Iain Watkins, Imperial Tobacco's UK trade communications manager, commented: "It was important to find out what Irish retailers have experienced since July 1, and the evidence we discovered, although anecdotal at this stage, is both interesting and invaluable. While visiting retail outlets, Imperial Tobacco was told that individual sales transaction times have doubled due to adult smokers having to ask what brands are stocked and only being able to be shown one pack at a time by the retailer. Impatience from non-tobacco customers in queues, due to this increase in transaction times, has also had to be tolerated, while many tourists and non-regular customers have been confused as to whether stores sell tobacco or not - many simply assume not and walk out.

"Tobacco sales in the stores visited seemed slightly down - indeed one retailer reported a 16% fall in his tobacco sales since July 1. Perhaps the most illuminating feedback saw all retailers stating there is no evidence of smokers either cutting down or quitting but they think the illicit trade is definitely increasing - and while there we witnessed illegal selling on the streets. What I will take from this trip is the general trade frustration at what they unanimously referred to as 'pointless legislation.'"

Deirdre Healy, corporate communications manager at John Player & Sons, said:"While Irish retailers are obviously aware that a tobacco display ban has had some impact on their businesses, the current economic and trading conditions in Ireland mean it is too early for us to provide hard data on the exact effect. However, some comments made by the retail trade are of obvious concern - especially the fact they can see illegal selling increasingly occurring in the streets around their stores."

----

=== tobacco laws in ireland since july ===

== DON'T: ==

l Openly display any tobacco product in your shop.

l Openly advertise any product by removing: all wobblers, counter mats and posters; all tobacco advertising on the header panels; the planogram on the tobacco dispenser; till covers that advertise tobacco.

l Openly display a pictorial list or menu of all tobacco products.

== DO: ==

l Continue to store tobacco products in their current units/dispensers as long as these units are closed ie the drawer or press/unit door is shut.

l Continue to keep their tobacco unit in its current place on the back wall. The tobacco unit DOES NOT have to be placed under the counter.

l Replenish stock in the tobacco unit/dispenser at any time.

l Show the adult purchasing tobacco one pack of every tobacco product sold in the shop, if requested.

== OR: ==

l Show the adult purchasing tobacco a pictorial list of every product sold in the shop if requested. However, this list CANNOT be on permanent display.

l Display a text-only price list in close proximity to the tobacco unit.





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