News of the government’s intention to proceed with plain packaging has been met with grim resignation by the independent retail trade.
While “appalled” and “fearful” of the service and illicit trade implications, retailers believe that the government had made its mind up many months ago.
Vic Grewal of Simply Fresh in Thames Ditton, Surrey, said he was “bitterly disappointed but not surprised” by the news which was announced by public health minister Jane Ellison last week.
“This is a blow for the retail trade, although not a surprising one. The government made its decision months ago - the second consultation was just a tick box exercise. Plain packaging will not reduce smoking rates - Australia has shown us this - but it will cause a logistical nightmare for retailers.”
The customer service which convenience stores are known for could be jeopardised as staff struggle to locate brands and accidentally issue the wrong brands, he said.
The news comes just over two months before a tobacco display ban is implemented in all small stores on 6 April.
Nisa retailer Matt Croft of Croft Stores in Silverstone, Northamptonshire, was shocked by the timing of the news and urged the UK’s tobacco manufacturers to challenge plain packaging in court.
“The tobacco manufacturers must support the retail trade and challenge the legislation in court,” he said. As C-Store went to press legal challenges by the UK’s big tobacco manufacturers were looking likely.
JTI said it “strongly considered” that plain packaging would be “unlawful”.
“JTI and others have repeatedly said that plain packaging would infringe EU requirements on the free movement of goods, violate property and other fundamental rights - including trademark rights - and go against obligations under EU and World Trade Organisation rules,” JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn said.
“It’s a double blow that will come just a year after the implementation of a display ban. The combination of the two will be incredibly difficult for retailers and adult shoppers alike to manage. ” Anjali Karpal, Essentials Convenience, Horsham, West Sussex
”The evidence from Australia shows that plain packaging has led to an increase in smuggled and illicit tobacco.” Suleman Khonat, Blackburn retailer and Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance spokesman
What happens next
The final decision on plain packaging is now dependent on a “free vote” which must be passed in both the House of Commons and House of Lords before the General Election on 7 May.
Indications are that the aim would be for plain packaging regulations to come into force in May 2016, to coincide with changes to the European Tobacco Products Directive (EUTPD). These bring in measures including larger picture health warnings, a ban on cigarettes in packs of less than 20, pouches of rolling tobacco of less than 30g and a ban on flavourings, including menthol.