Starting on 6 April, the tobacco display ban that already applies in supermarkets will extend to corner shops and other smaller stores.
Cigarettes and other tobacco will be out of sight behind small grey doors. The aim is to also to put tobacco out of mind and out of fashion among young people – an important step as Scotland moves forward with its ambition to achieve a generation free from tobacco by 2034.
Here are some of the myths about the impact of the display ban commonly peddled by Big Tobacco and retailers – and the facts that counter them:
Customers won’t know what shops stock
Yes they will. Surveys demonstrate that around 90% of adult smokers know what tobacco product they will buy before they go into a shop, and do not use the display to decide. For those who do, unbranded price/product lists can be provided. Claims that it will take longer to be served do not stand up to scrutiny.
Even tobacco bosses agree. Christopher Street, head of the grocery channel at Imperial Tobacco, has said: “Serving times tended to increase at the start of the trials but once staff become accustomed to the modified units, they reduce.”
Tobacco sales bring customers into stores, so small retailers will lose business
This has not happened in places with display bans. Most shops report business as usual following a ban. Most smokers know where tobacco is sold, what they want to buy and are already be in the shop before displays will be visible. Footfall will not be affected. The display ban is about changing perceptions of tobacco and its position as a normal consumer product – the impact will occur over time, not immediately.
Other countries have seen massive shop closures
These are typically percentage figures (e.g. 30% of small shops closed) or absolute numbers (1,800 stores have closed). These statistics can be unreliable, as they usually take no account of other factors that affect shop closures like the rate of shops that would be closing with or without a display ban, or the number of new shops opening.
An evaluation of Ireland’s tobacco display ban concludes that “Recent claims of substantial revenue losses and closures of small retailers as a direct result of the removal of point-of-sale tobacco promotional displays in Ireland are not borne out by these data.”
It will be too expensive for shopkeepers to refit
Tobacco companies such as JTI and Imperial Tobacco are making sure retailers continue to give prominence to tobacco sales by providing covers free to many of those who already have their gantries.
There is a range of solutions for storage and many can be relatively cheap. The legislation does not set out how tobacco must be stored or covered. Retailers are free to choose for themselves the most appropriate and efficient way to put them out of sight – fitting covers, sliding doors or curtains to an existing gantry, covering displays of cigars in cabinets and humidors and putting loose tobacco in opaque containers.
The changes may allow valuable display space at the counter to be freed up for the sale of more profitable products in place of tobacco. The long lead-in time for the display ban to come into force in small shops has given retailers plenty of notice and the chance to make the changes as part of normal redesign and maintenance.
It will drive the illicit, black market trade
Illicit trade in tobacco is a problem, but it is unrelated to whether a product is displayed or not. Enforcement officials have said a ban on displays will not hamper their checks for illicit tobacco products as black market stock is not routinely stored in gantries and on display in any case.
There is no reason for retailers and customers who are currently buying and selling legal products to suddenly resort to the black market because of a display ban, and there is strong evidence that smuggling depends on other factors around supply and demand.
There’s no evidence that a display ban will work to reduce youth smoking
This is false as there is a breadth of published evidence on the impact of tobacco displays in a range of countries. They indicate that seeing tobacco displays encourages interest in smoking and is associated with taking up the habit.
The latest international research on tobacco point-of-sale displays underlines the success of putting cigarettes out of sight.
It’s too early to judge the effects on smoking prevalence here, but the review says the current evidence suggests there are lower rates of impulse purchase of tobacco in countries where it is kept out of sight.
Display bans may also help “denormalise” tobacco among young people by affecting their impression of how many of their peer group are smokers. By reducing the visibility of tobacco, the measure may also make a helpful contribution to providing a supportive environment for smokers to quit.
The researchers say their review found a clear link between smoking and tobacco displays and they recommend bans should continue in countries which have introduced the legislation and be used by those which haven’t yet brought in this child protection measure.
Countries, including Canada, that have enacted point of sale legislation for the longest have seen a continued fall in youth smoking. This drop is consistent with what would be expected from expert opinion on the effect of point-of-sale displays. It is hard to pinpoint a display ban’s precise impact though, as several factors change youth smoking trends.
With a display ban we don’t need “plain packs”
The display ban and standardised packaging are complementary measures to reduce the advertising of tobacco products. The display ban removes the promotional displays in shops, the standard packs remove the branding which smokers carried around with them.
Tobacco trade journals have described elaborate packaging as “the last chance marketing saloon” for a heavily-regulated industry, adding that “a cigarette pack aims to attract the eye, display the brand to advantage, and generally look cool”.
If gantries and product packaging were not a form of driving sales and attracting customers, it is unlikely that the tobacco industry would spend so much on them.