Sociability, cost and now colourful displays are being blamed for enticing children to spark up, but is the latest battle against smoking really the right step to take?
Following years of Government backing, campaigning and pressure on tobacco manufacturers, April 6 2012 will accompany July 1 2007 – the date of the smoking ban in a public place – in the history books of the anti-smoking battle.
Tobacco displays in retail outlets over 3,000ft are now required, by law, to be hidden out-of-sight of young people, leading to a near illicit-style of trading.
However, corner shops and local traders have been given an additional three years before the ban applies to them.
Speaking about the Government’s battle against smokers, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “It reduces the visibility of tobacco and smoking to young people. And, of course two-thirds of smokers started smoking before they were eighteen.
“So, if we can, literally, arrive at a place where young people just don’t think about smoking and they don’t see tobacco and they don’t see cigarettes – then I hope we can make a big difference.”
By removing the thought of smoking as part of everyday life, the Government are planning to phase-out cigarettes in stages.
A fifth of adults continue to smoke, a figure which has remained constant in recent years, after decades of rapid falls, despite advertising, public places and pockets feeling the wrath of legislation.
Anne Bingham of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents is criticising the move. She argues proxy purchasing still occurs in both small and large retailers and said customers see the distinction between legal and illicit and counterfeit tobacco as unclear.
“A display ban, coupled with proposals to introduce plain packaging and planned increases in tobacco duty, can only be expected to do one thing: drive consumers to the illicit and counterfeit market,” she said.
“If the Government is sincere about continuing to reduce levels of adolescent smoking then it would follow NFRN recommendations and make the proxy purchasing of tobacco for minors illegal (as it is with alcohol), make the attempted purchase of tobacco by a minor illegal, crack down on ‘tab houses’ and the illicit trade and put heavy sanctions in place for those caught doing so.”
The NFRN have also accused the Government of railroading through their proposals without the proper impact assessments being done, and said they ‘should avoid pandering to hysterical anti-smoking campaigns’.
The new legislation is accompanied by the discussion of introducing plain packaging for all tobacco products (stripping packs of branding and introducing larger health warnings) in order to deter children away from the attractive boxes.
How ‘attractive’ are cigarette packets to children?
Jean King, of Cancer Research UK, said the ban would help stop children who are enticed by brightly coloured tobacco packaging to take up smoking.
“Of course we want to see the pack branding taken away as well. This is not a normal consumer product, it kills people. We want to protect the next generation of children,” she said.
A child ogling at the metallic blue strip of a grey-heavy Lambert & Butler packet may be an over-exaggerated thought, but it is the confectionary aisle that is often the target of tantrums and children’s attention.
With this in mind should the Government extend their quest of hiding potentially dangerous products from children to high-calorie foods, cleaning products and alcohol?
Parents of primary school children in Greater Manchester say that the inviting colouring of sweet packaging is a bigger concern.
Victoria Gaulter, whose daughter attends Chadderton Hall Primary, said: “The sight of someone smoking, peer pressure and the appeal of an exclusive group to join is more of a concern than current tobacco packaging.
“Greys, silvers and blacks are far less enticing to children than vibrant sweet packets with colourful characters, and surely the issue of child obesity should see confectionaries banned from display as well?”
Mrs Gaulter added: “My daughter and her friends pop to the corner shop before they go to school where tobacco is still on sale in plain view, and in a much smaller environment than when she goes to a supermarket in my company. How many children actually go to a supermarket, alone, and eye-up the cigarettes?”
The British Heart Foundation campaigned strongly for a tobacco display ban and said it will help prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products at children.
Maura Gillespie, the charity’s Head of Policy and Advocacy at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The tobacco display ban is another step towards ensuring tobacco companies can’t advertise their deadly products to children and young people.”
Many consumers and retailers have looked towards countries who have already implemented a tobacco display ban, such as Canada and Ireland, to predict the impact on the UK.
Since 2005 Canadian jurisdictions began banning the point of sale cigarette shelves, and three years later the whole country followed. They received praise from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) for a 9% fall in smokers between the ages of 15 to 19.
However, The Association of Convenience Stores claimed that the display ban was not effective as youth smoking went up 2%.
A report funded by Tobacco Retailers Alliance on the Irish experience of the ban claimed that sales in Ireland fell by 30% in the year following the 2009 removal.
This led to an increase in tobacco smuggling and resulted in Irish tobacco duty revenues falling by £500million.
But, following an independent report from global independent researchers AC Nielson, Imperial Tobacco’s Christopher Street acknowledged that ‘in trials we have found that tobacco sales volumes do not decrease’.
Mrs Bingham questioned the findings and suggested that small retailers expected to see a rise in sales following the supermarket’s ban. However, the move will be ‘unsustainable’ and will heavily affect struggling businesses.
“We do anticipate a temporary and unsustainable shift in tobacco sales from larger stores to small shops, but this can only last as long as it takes that proportion of consumers to get used to the fact that supermarkets do sell tobacco,” she said.
“All legislation should be made on an evidential basis, and if it cannot, then it will fall short of its aims and fall prey to unintended consequences – such as irreparably damaging the small business sector.”