Scotland’s tobacco retailers register has been expanded to include those selling Nicotine Vaping Products, giving us a useful tool to explore a wider market in nicotine products, and unique information on who is selling nicotine products and what kind.
The Scottish Tobacco Retailers Register was set up in 2011 and all outlets selling tobacco products had to be listed. This has given us useful new information, including that there are around 10,000 tobacco outlets in Scotland, where they are and what kind of shop they are. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have produced innovative density maps showing how tobacco outlets are concentrated in deprived areas and are linked to higher youth take-up and adult smoking rates.
The expanded Register of Tobacco and Nicotine Vapour Products Retailers now includes outlets selling Nicotine Vaping Products (NVPs), giving us a whole new angle on the nicotine market in Scotland. I have a helpful colleague who explored some of the data available on the register and produced the following graph:
I was interested to see that the overall number of outlets selling tobacco (at 9,680) was around twice that selling NVPs (5,007). Given that vaping is definitely less harmful than tobacco it is unfortunate that tobacco is sold in twice as many outlets (we’ve previously pointed out that tobacco is sold in eight times as many outlets as medicine which is, well, sickening).
The figure for tobacco retailers does seem to be declining ever so slowly over time, while that of NVP retailers is slowly increasing, although this is just based on personal recollection.
Now because we are looking at those on the register we are only looking at shops that sell tobacco and/or NVPs, and missing outlets that sell neither. My gut feeling is that very few amongst the main sectors, such as supermarkets, newsagents or convenience stores, aren’t selling at least one of these – but I have no objective proof of this, and until such time as a proper study is made the following is presented as observations for interest and discussion rather than as identified fact.
Looking at the register data shown on the graph, those selling NVPs only (i.e. not selling tobacco) are partly supermarkets (and we know some of the supermarkets, such as Lidl, don’t sell tobacco) and partly “other retail” (which includes vape shops). Almost every other one of the other outlets listed sells tobacco, so only these two groups are selling NVPs but not tobacco. There are currently 1,171 active premises selling NVPs but not tobacco, 80% of whom are the “other retail” which a quick look suggests is dominated more by the Poundworld and B&M bargain store sector rather than the specialist vape shops.
There are two main groups selling tobacco but not NVPs. The kinds of outlet that would just have a few cigarette packs or cigars under the bar/counter and would have very low sales volumes (pubs, sports clubs, restaurants, nightclubs, vans) generally aren’t listed as selling vapes. I can’t be sure why, but it might be that they’re not interested enough as tobacco is just a habitual but marginal side-line for them? These are likely to be the bit-players with minimal contribution to tobacco sales, but they account for about 2,800 of the active premises listed, and so a substantial part of the difference between the numbers selling tobacco and selling NVPs.
More importantly, those on the register from the convenience store, newsagent, and garage forecourt sectors (and these are the big numbers – 6786 in total) show just a tiny number (15) selling vapes but not tobacco.
This doesn’t prove my own impression that pretty much any shop that might sell tobacco does sell tobacco, but it does sit very nicely with it. So when we find a lower density of shops selling tobacco in affluent areas, this may suggest that there are just fewer shops rather than that a shop of a particular type is more or less likely to sell tobacco depending on the area.
Interestingly we also see that about half of the convenience store, newsagent, and garage forecourt outlets (3445) are selling tobacco but not vapes, which supports informal feedback we have had from retailer contacts that a lot of small retailers are seeing the sale of NVPs as complicated and not commercially viable.
What does all this mean? Without a more rigorous study we can’t say much for certain, but I’m left with an impression that retailers, and particularly small retailers, are not abandoning tobacco to pursue new markets in e-cigarettes (or indeed anything else). Yet new figures showing continuing decline in smoking rates, and the Scottish Government reaffirming its commitment to a tobacco-free Scotland, reinforce the idea that tobacco does not provide a long-term business model for retailers.
Those who claim to represent the interests of tobacco retailers need to look to a diversification plan, and stop trying to lash retailers to the mast of this steadily sinking ship.