You may have noticed that, in this magazine, dodgy fags are quite a big subject. Another big subject is the government’s Big Effort to make things extremely difficult for a perfectly legal branded product (cigs again) to be on display and on sale in legal shops. The latter has led to the former running all over us like a cheap suit.

So I was very interested when I got an email from Tracey Colton, who runs Coltons Food & Wine in Sheffield. She writes: “I have a question about a situation which I have been told about in Sheffield. There are people going from pub to pub carrying what I can only describe as the old-fashioned trays which were used to sell ice creams in cinemas, but which now contain branded cigarettes for sale much cheaper than rrp. Apparently, this also happens in clubs. Surely this cannot be legal?”

I contacted a couple of the big tobacco manufacturers over what I thought might be contraband ‘Traygate’ and must credit Imperial Tobacco for offering to be spokesperson for the industry.

Turns out it is all above board.

Gayatri Barua-Howe, Imperial Tobacco communications manager, comments: “From time to time, tobacco manufacturers engage the services of experienced agency-selected personnel to sell their brands to adult smokers in venues where tobacco products are already available, such as bars and clubs.

“When selling this way, tobacco manufacturers follow strict guidelines: the sales personnel must be 21 or over and are always fully briefed on their, and the tobacco manufacturer’s, responsibilities. Sales are only ever made on a reactive basis, and the personnel involved are not allowed to approach anyone to suggest a sale. Manufacturers are entitled to sell their products at whatever price they deem appropriate and may decide to make their brands available at sub-rrp. Legislation prohibits manufacturers from distributing tobacco free, or for a nominal fee.”

As I said to Tracey, I guess with all the kerfuffle over displays ‘going dark’ and the threat of plain packs and all the illicit trading going on, the tobacco companies are doing all that they are legally allowed to do to promote their brands.

I also asked Imperial about the display restrictions and the answer was: “Tobacco display restrictions will not come into force in ‘on-trade’ licensed premises such as pubs and clubs in England until April 2015, regardless of size of venue.”

If tobacco manufacturers wish to carry on after that date they have to ensure the products are not visible other than when serving an adult smoker who has approached the sales staff.

I couldn’t help observing that I got an image of agents with covered up trays, walking around clubs and pubs while the entertainers at said venues would be baring whatever bits they felt like. It’s a mad world.

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