Banning tobacco displays won’t stop youths smoking

Belfast Telegraph
7 February 2009

In response to your article, Cigarettes to go under the counter (Belfast Telegraph, February 4), shopkeepers across the UK are very concerned about Government plans to ban the display of tobacco products in our shops.

The evidence to support the theory that tobacco display bans reduce youth smoking simply does not exist.

Evidence from Canada shows that youth smoking has not declined any more in provinces where tobacco was hidden under the counter than in provinces where it was on display — in other words, retail displays made no difference to youth smoking.

Research shows that the primary causes of youths taking up smoking are parental smoking, peers smoking and image-related influences.

Whether tobacco is behind or under the counter, young people will encounter these influences regardless.

For teenagers trying to assert their independence and appear more mature to their peers, restricted products such as tobacco hold great appeal and there is a danger that hiding tobacco under the counter would make tobacco appear more illicit, and more attractive, to the young — potentially causing an increase in youth smoking.

The estimated cost to retailers of replacing tobacco displays ranges from £2,000 to £10,000 per shop. There are fears that hiding tobacco under the counter will blur the distinction in smokers’ minds between buying from a legitimate trader and buying from a black market seller.

In short, it would be a huge burden on small businesses with no discernible benefits for anyone.

There are currently sufficient laws in place to prevent those under 18 from accessing tobacco from shops, but these are not being properly enforced.

We retailers have also campaigned for ‘proxy purchasing’ to be made illegal, but so far the Government has refused.

The Government strategy on tackling under-age smoking needs a comprehensive approach which looks at other avenues of access to tobacco, not its visibility in retail environments.

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