Australian retailers are desperately trying to run down their stocks of branded tobacco in a bid to avoid crippling fines once contentious plain packaging legislation is enforced in stores on December 1.

Manufacturers were forced to stop making branded packs on October 1 and from next week all tobacco sold in stores must be in unbranded packets, which also feature larger and more graphic front-of-pack health warnings.

The Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) said the eight-week lead-in had not given stores enough time to sell through the branded packs. As Convenience Store went to press, many Australian retailers were reporting that old branded packs still accounted for about 60% of the tobacco on their gantries.

The AACS is campaigning for a three-month moratorium on the Aus $220,000 (£144,000) fines that retailers could face if caught selling the old packs after the deadline.

The situation has been made worse by the fact that different brands and variants have been flowing through at different times in the run up to the deadline.

“The Australian Government provided the regulations for Roll Your Own (RYO) products some 14 weeks later than the regulations for cigarettes. As a result, we have had less time to prepare our RYO portfolio,” Imperial Tobacco UK communications manager Gayatri Barua-Howe explained.
Australian retailers are reporting transaction times of up to five times longer than normal as staff struggled to identify the correct products on the gantry. Distinguishing between different brand variants was particularly challenging, said retailer Sharon Wade, who owns a store in Launceston, Tasmania.

“We used to identify the strength of the cigarette by the colour of the pack, now we have to read the pack and small print.”
Sharon added that the scheme was “backfiring” as tobacco sales remained constant, while sales of cases to hide the “ghoulish” packs have risen strongly.