Ban cigarette displays

When I go into any shop, I rarely buy anything on impulse. I go in to buy what I wanted. However, I can’t be typical. Shops spend a lot of time and effort making attractive displays to entice customers into buying things they didn’t know they needed, and they wouldn’t bother if it had no effect. It therefore follows that displaying tobacco products encourages more people to smoke, or occasional smokers to smoke more. Seeing the brightly-coloured boxes of this grown-up product on the shelf right behind the counter, where one can’t help but see it when paying, is bound to be extra encouragement for children to take up smoking.

I have wondered about certain practical aspects of a ban on tobacco displays. What will shops be allowed to display to indicate that they actually do sell cigarettes? They will need a sign of some sort. Presumably they will produce a price list or “menu” of products that customers can see if they ask for it. Perhaps I should read the Bill to see if this is explained.

I certainly believe displays of tobacco products in shops encourage young people to take up smoking. I don’t believe the tobacco industry when they claim the only purpose is to inform people who already smoke what is available. Time and time again they have used this argument to oppose restrictions on advertising, yet the fact is millions of their customers die through the use of their products every year, so if they didn’t find ways to attract new ones, they’d be out of business! The shop displays are just another form of advertising, and therefore represent a loophole in the present legislation banning tobacco advertising.

The Health Bill currently going through parliament contains legislation that would ban shops from having tobacco products on display. This post was originally written as a comment on Lord Norton of Louth’s post on the issue on Lords of the Blog.

2 responses to “Ban cigarette displays”

  1. dave brown

    I have very mixed feelings about cigarettes in general and this ban in particular. The idea that a product which is legally available should not be advertised rather jars with me. If tobacco is as dangerous as claimed – and there is little doubt, at least for primary smoking, about that – shouldn’t it be banned?

    But I know that, in practice, a ban wouldn’t work any more than it works for cannabis, opiates or other recreational drugs so perhaps the ban is the best way. But the proposal under discussion is too far.

    A display isn’t “just” another form of advertising. It is far removed from the aggressive lifestyle marketing that used to go on on cinema and TV. Nor am I convinced that the sight of a packet of cigarettes will cause a young person to start smoking after she has resisted all the other pressures on her to start.. And, as occasional smoker myself, I can only say that the sight of a cigarette display or machine has never inspired me to light up

    My serious objection is that this measure is putting the cost of a government experiment on to the retailer for whom, in the present financial climate, the cost of converting his shop might be the last straw. I would hate to see even more small shops closures feeding the greed of the giant supermarkets.

    Perhaps a good compromise would be to insist that cigarettes are packaged in plain white cartons with the health warning on the back and the product name in small plain type on the base. Surely a display of stark white cardboard wouldn’t encourage anyone to smoke

  2. Jonathan

    Thanks for the comments, Dave. In case anyone hasn’t been following it, the Bill was passed by the Lords with the banning clause in place. An amendment to ban vending machines wasn’t agreed, which is unfortunate. The Bill will now go to the Commons – I expect it’ll be passed as it stands as it’s a Government Bill.

    The debate in Hansard is worth a read as it contains well-reasoned arguments on both sides.

    In the scheme of things, this ban isn’t so important as far as tobacco control is concerned. Maybe its effect on levels of smoking will be limited, for the reasons Dave gives above. On the other hand, shops put a lot of effort into fancy displays of all sorts of items, so there must be some effect.

    I can’t see that it’ll harm retailers: apparently the tobacco industry typically pays for the displays in shops. Surely smokers will still buy the same cigarettes from the same shops, and will still impulse-buy other items (newspapers, chocolate) that they see when they come into the shop. At present, they can’t usually see the display of cigarettes until they are already inside the shop anyway.

    Many legal products or activities are restricted in where they can be used or displayed. Until recently, betting shops had to have their windows covered, despite gambling being legal. The fact that cigarettes are a “legal” product is a red herring. Ideally they shouldn’t be legal, but that isn’t a realistic prospect at the moment. There is also an argument that banning their sale completely would take away individual liberties, so it’s better to tackle the issue by ensuring that use of tobacco doesn’t affect others (though the ban in public places) and that in the future fewer people smoke (though bans on advertising and, perhaps, shop displays) until one day the number of users is so small that it can be banned.

Leave a comment

By browsing this site, you agree to its use of cookies. More information. OK