UK plain packaging legislation and European Tobacco Product Directive (EUTPD) laws - banning the sale of small tobacco packs - appear to be failing in their missions to curtail tobacco sales.

Just over one year on from the 20 May introduction of both pieces of legislation in stores, many retailers claim that sales and footfall have been broadly unaffected.

Brand loyalty, however, is emerging as the main casualty, with many retailers reporting a near complete indifference to brands within the lower-priced segments of the market.

“Plain packaging and the EUTPD legislation has had hardly any impact on tobacco sales or footfall,” Anita Nye, manager of Eldred Drive Stores in Orpington, Kent, told C-Store.

“If anything I’d say that sales are up slightly year on year. Plain packaging is certainly not proving to be a deterrent and the ban on small tobacco packs just means that people are smoking more.”

She added: “In the lower-priced segments, brand loyalty simply doesn’t exist anymore. All we get asked is ‘What’s your cheapest product?’.”

Hiral Patel, of Londis Claygate in Surrey, agreed: “There’s been absolutely no change to my tobacco sales in the past year,” he said.

“Footfall is also largely unchanged. A smoker who used to purchase a pack of 10s on a Monday morning and then again on a Tuesday morning will now purchase a 20-pack on a Monday morning and another on a Tuesday evening.

“Brand loyalty has gone down the pan, though. People just want what’s cheapest.”

It’s a similar story for One Stop retailer Dee Sedani in Derbyshire. He said: “Legislation hasn’t had the effect the government wanted. Brand loyalty has been decimated and most people have switched from the big brands to cheaper ones instead.”

He added: “Now that people don’t care about brands, there is no point in training staff to know about the different tobacco products.”

Sales still steady

“I don’t think plain packaging has made any difference to sales and we took the decision to phase out 10s a full year before the deadline, with very little backlash. The number of recent manufacturer price rises has probably had a bigger impact.”

Joe Williams, The Village Shop, Hook Norton, Oxfordshire

“Tobacco sales haven’t really been affected by the legislation; they are pretty steady year on year.”

Jamie Patel, Weybridge News, Surrey

Study shows smoking rates rising

New data suggests that plain packaging is failing to reduce smoking levels.

According to the national Smoking Toolkit Study, on a three-month rolling average from December 2017 to March 2018, smoking rates in England were higher than for the same time last year before plain packaging. In March 2018 the UK smoking rate was estimated at 17.1% - up from 16.5% in March 2017.

Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said: “Recent evidence shows that plain packaging appears not to be delivering the outcomes it was claimed it would.”