The current consultation on the tobacco market has the potential to damage a neighbourhood retailer’s operation much more than any new supermarket opening.

Calling it a ‘consultation’ makes it sound very genteel, but make no mistake – there are some very serious people having their say, and what they are saying is very serious.

For our industry, which relies on footfall and regular daily purchases, cigarette sales are important.

But this is about much more than lost sales. It is about cost versus benefit – potentially thousands of pounds for each store to tear down its gantry and provide alternative units for tobacco. It is about customer service – in a gantry-free store service will be slower and prices won’t be on display. It is about security – staff under increased threat from attack while they turn their back to look for the right brand.

But most of all it is about redressing the balance. In the 110-page consultation document there are three pages on illicit tobacco, which represents an estimated 27% of the market, and this can only grow if the government drives tobacco underground.

In other words, the proposals outlined in this consultation are like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but missing the nut altogether.

So for this reason we have done our own consultation, and come up with a statement that we believe should be seen by everyone who wants to legislate on tobacco – it’s on page 13 of the Conveneince Store magazine dated August 8 2008. Please sign it and send it in to the consultation, or show your support for it by telling us you back it. It might be the most important thing you do this year.

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