"Tobacco is not an illegal substance yet the government is persecuting a minority. I think that's a disgrace in a social democracy."
Sir Ronald Harwood,
Playwright and screenwriter
In 2010, shortly before it left office, the Labour government in the UK passed legislation to ban the point of sale display of tobacco in all retail outlets. At the same time Parliament also voted to ban tobacco vending machines. Plans to ban the sale of 10-packs were however dropped.
Although both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats opposed the display ban when in opposition – arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support such a ban – the new Coalition Government has nevertheless decided to go ahead with bans on tobacco displays and vending machines. In addition, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (Conservative) has announced that he will also consider the introduction of plain packaging on tobacco products.
To date, there is very little evidence that banning the point of sale display of tobacco has any significant effect on the youth or adult smoking rates. In Iceland, where tobacco displays have been banned for more than a decade, the number of children who smoke has barely changed.
Banning point of sale displays seems designed merely to “denormalise” the purchase of tobacco by placing the product under the counter. It will have little impact on existing smokers (who will simply ask for their current brand). It clearly limits their ability to choose alternative brands, however, and in the long run it will undoubtedly have an impact on the number of brands available to the consumer.
Meanwhile, human nature being what it is, a display could make smoking more, not less, attractive to many young adults.
The major beneficiaries of a display ban will be the larger retail stores who have both the space and the staff to provide designated counters where a far greater variety of brands will be available, albeit under the counter. The losers will be smaller retailers – local newsagents and village stores – for whom the potential loss of revenue (to the larger stores) could be enough to put them out of business.
Anti-smoking campaigners say a ban on vending machines is necessary to protect under-age smokers. Forest supports strict enforcement of existing regulations, but we object strongly to a ban that would seriously inconvenience some adult smokers who rely on vending machines when other retail outlets are closed or too far away.
If anti-smoking campaigners are concerned primarily with youth smoking – rather than the Orwellian “denormalisation” of smoking – they would consider alternatives to a ban. These would include machines that can only be operated using credit cards or tokens instead of cash.
Sadly, it is typical of the illiberal nature of the anti-smoking movement that campaigners – and many politicians – are deaf to the sort of sensible compromise that can protect young people without restricting freedom of choice for adult smokers.
Forest supports youth prevention measures but banning the sale of packs of 10 cigarettes is like banning the sale of small bars of chocolate. If you buy a bar of chocolate, or a packet of peanuts, how often do you consume half and put the other half aside for another day? Very rarely.
Although there is no immediate prospect of 10-packs being banned in the UK, it is worth putting Forest's position in writing.
If 10-packs are banned, people will continue to buy cigarettes, but they will buy the larger pack and will almost certainly consume its contents in less time than they would had they been able to buy, at different times, two packets of ten.
In Ireland, where the sale of 10-packs has been banned since May 31, 2007, one tobacco company reported that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day rose from 16 to 17 in the months following the ban (Sunday Independent, February 10, 2008).
A ban on 10-packs will deny adults freedom of choice and will have little or no effect on the smoking rate, other than to encourage existing smokers to increase their rate of consumption.
Are you tired of being targetted for your smoking habit?