Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, unpicks claims that shopkeepers are being hit hard by new tobacco display regulations. He writes:
The Sun-Herald this weekend reported on a Deloitte study commissioned by the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, which claimed that the NSW’s government’s 2008 decision to require all retail displays of tobacco to be covered-up would cost “$127 million across the state, would cause job losses and even the closure of shops.”
The cover-up alterations are said to cost between $6000-$10,000 for each shop and the Convenience Stores Association is trying to spin it that corner store owners will foot the bill themselves.
But every shopkeeper knows that the shelves are paid for by tobacco manufacturers who climb over themselves to sign up shops to their mode of display which often highlight particular brands at critical eye-lines.
The argument now being run is that if no packs can be displayed, no tobacco company is going to shell out for shelving that won’t optimise their own brands. So we are being asked to believe that the sales forces at British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Imperial have therefore decided it is now game over in their efforts to have shopkeepers push particular brands and that the companies would all be delighted if shops moving lots of tobacco decided to permanently stop selling, rather than shell out a few grand for shelving that covers the displays.
Tobacco retail displays have been banned in most provinces of Canada, Iceland and Thailand (see this picture) for years, and tobacco companies there rushed to ensure that as many retailers as possible continued to stock tobacco. On a recent trip to Bangkok I saw even small food carts displaying professional signage that they sold cigarettes – kept out of sight inside the carts.
Banning display brings tobacco a step closer to the way that governments treat scheduled drugs, which save lives. Every pharmacy is full of prescribed drugs that cannot be displayed or handled by customers.
Imagine the Pharmacy Guild commissioning Deloitte to allow them to scream about the terrible burden on pharmacists in having to build dispensaries and install safes for heavily restricted drugs. Pharmaceuticals are also packed in plain, dull boxes, not in state-of-the-art designer livery designed to complement every conceivable smoker demographic. We don’t pull out our anti-hypertension medication and proudly leave the box on display. To get your antibiotic, cholesterol lowering or anti-malaria supplies, you have to go to a doctor, pay for a consultation, trek to the pharmacy, get a limited supply, obtain it from a person with a four year university degree, pay often big money for it, and then start all over again when your script expires.
With tobacco, which will kill one in two long terms users when used as intended, you can get unlimited supplies from virtually any shop, sold in a beautiful box.
The out of sight tobacco retail laws, now passed in four states, have just passed the tobacco industry’s scream test with flying colours. Their only economic impact is likely to be reduced tobacco sales … which is exactly why they have been introduced.