The next two months will help shape the future of tobacco retailing. Retailers
have until January to make their voices heard during the government’s consultation on plans to ban tobacco displays and vending machines in shops.
This follows MPs last month voting in favour of prohibiting the display of tobacco products. MPs also supported a backbench amendment to outlaw cigarette vending machines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own separate Bill. In England larger shops will have to comply by 2011 while smaller shops will have until 2013.
Following the vote the Department of Health has published the ’Consultation on proposed tobacco control regulations in England under the Health Bill 2009’, which runs until January 4. The Health Bill will go before the House of Lords for further consideration.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) responded by warning that ministers were "planning the most costly and disruptive tobacco display ban of its type in the world" if they implemented the draft regulations.
It continued that the regulations could prove costly and time-consuming to retailers: "The government has published a consultation that sets out what a retailer would have to do to implement the new law banning tobacco displays. In it the government will require retailers to fit doors or flaps that only allow an area slightly larger than a sheet of A3 paper to be seen by a customer when they are being served tobacco. This would mean that a typical small shop would be required to fit at least 20 separate doors or flaps to their existing unit."
The ACS said the government’s official estimate for the cost of compliance was £1,000 per store, although it added that ministers had repeatedly suggested to MPs and media that the cost would be much lower for smaller stores. Lowman said: "The technical challenges in fitting a solution to existing units that meet the ministers’ demands could be insurmountable. This would mean retailers having to rip out and replace existing units and the costs will be far higher than previously suggested. The evidence that a display ban affects smoking rates is weak, but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a tiny permitted display area during transactions is necessary for the policy to succeed."
Retailers had mixed views on the proposals. Paul Sykes, managing director of Shaw Petroleum, said the government should concentrate its efforts more on penalising retailers involved with underage sales rather than bringing in a display ban.
He explained: "It’s absolutely crackers. There are adequate measures in place for penalising retailers selling tobacco to those who are underage so why not just enforce them? I think tobacco should be kept as it is but that the government should double or triple the penalties for underage sales. Don’t ban the display in our shops of a legal product."
Paul said he had no idea how much it would cost his business to "go dark" but thought it would "certainly be more than the government is making out".
Sunil Tandon, managing director of Park Garage Group, said: "Tobacco is a very big category for us, it probably accounts for about 35% of our sales. On the one hand these proposals are very concerning. We have no idea how much it might cost us but we will work with the manufacturers. On the other hand I’m quite open minded about it. I think retail will have to adapt to the changes. It could be that we will still sell the same amount of tobacco products. In our shops we probably have about 10 facings that we really sell, the rest are just there to provide a service."
Amal Pramanik, general manager of Imperial Tobacco UK, said that the latest evidence from Ireland, where a display ban has been in place since July, strongly suggested that a ban on the display of tobacco would exacerbate the problem of smuggled and counterfeit product.
Pramanik added: "Retailers are justifiably concerned about the lack of evidence and the public have a right to know why the government has been wedded to such an ineffectual proposal when the collateral damage from it is likely to be so great."
On vending Pramanik added that responsible vending companies had been developing restricted access mechanisms on cigarette vending machines and successfully trialling these devices in partnership with publicans.
The full consultation is available at www.dh.gov.uk. Comments should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.