Retailers Unite to Fight U.K. Cigarette Display Ban

An upcoming cigarette display ban in the United Kingdom, passed as a part of the 2009 Health Act, is not sitting well with tobacco groups and corner store trade bodies, and both have been “barraging” government officials with claims that the ban will trigger an increase in illegal sales while forcing many small retailers out of business.

The lobbying effort comes in advance of a display ban that is to take effect next October for supermarkets and in two years for smaller stores.

The tobacco industry has launched promotions on social networking sites and at music festivals, characterizing the regulations as an attack on civil liberties. Their efforts are starting to make inroads with public officials.

Last month, public health minister Anne Milton told the Commons, “The government, in discussions across Whitehall, is developing options around the display of cheap Marlboro cigarettes that seek to ensure an appropriate balance between public health priorities and burdens on business.”

Lobby groups have pointed to Ireland — where a display ban took effect last year — and a wave of small shop closures as evidence of the damaging effect of such a ban.

“Ultimately, people don’t even know where to buy tobacco any more,” said Imperial Tobacco chief executive Alison Cooper. “The Irish have this problem. That’s the best evidence.”

Other lobbying tactics include refuting claims that the display ban will decrease teen smoking.

“There is no credible evidence to support the stated public health objective that restricting tobacco displays will reduce youth smoking levels,” said Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association. “We believe, as recent evidence in Ireland proves, that organized crime will exploit the display ban. Concealing tobacco products from view will make it easier for traders of smuggled product to blend it into the legal supply chain… It could encourage some smokers to buy from rogue traders prepared to sell more visible illicit product.”

According to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), U.K. corner shops rely on tobacco sales for up to one-third of their sales. They fear that if a display ban takes effect, smokers will purchase tobacco from supermarkets.

Efforts to suspend the ban may require another round of reviews before Parliament.


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