Large numbers of convenience store retailers are leaving themselves exposed to possible fines and enforcement action as they struggle to get to grips with the finer points of the tobacco display ban.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has been swamped with calls for help since 6 April.
“The biggest problem are requested displays,” ACS head of communications and research Chris Noice told Convenience Store. “There is a huge amount of confusion about when and why retailers can and can’t open the gantry,” he said. “The second problem is price lists and labels, and not knowing how they should look. The third is where to keep accessories.”
Retailers have even been given incorrect advice by their local trading standards officers. “One retailer was told it was illegal to open the gantry for staff training, which is simply not true,” Noice said.
Nigel Dowdney, who has stores in Earlham and Stalham in Norfolk, said the past couple of weeks had been “chaotic”.
“We’ve had all sorts of problems with getting the price list in the correct size, font and spacing,” he said. “I am doing everything in my power to ensure my two stores are compliant, but when I’ve visited other stores I’ve seen all kinds of mistakes being made. Lots of retailers aren’t aware that they can do requested displays if asked by someone over the age of 18, while others don’t realise that they should keep tobacco covered up when moving it around the store,” Nigel added.
“Another worry is that each local authority can potentially interpret the law differently. If, like me, you have stores in more than one council area, you could see all kinds of problems.”
Trading Standards are expected to take an “informatory” approach for the first few months before taking a tougher stance by the mid- to late summer, tobacco lawyer Helen Jenkins from Legal Edge added.
“I’m still waiting to have a bespoke solution built so in the meantime I have reduced my range to my top five and am keeping them under the counter. I’m expecting to lose about 15% of my customers.”
Divyesh Patel, Minimarket, Egham, Surrey
”I can’t fit as much in as I could before. As a result I’m constantly stocking up, which involves having to hold the sliding door open with my knee while transferring stock and keeping an eye on the shop floor at the same time (see pic).”
Manny Patel, Manny’s Long Ditton, Surrey
Display ban dos and don’ts
Other than when serving an adult customer with a tobacco purchase, the unit can be opened in the following circumstances:
You can open the unit if a customer of 18 or over asks for information about a tobacco product
You can open the unit in response to a request from an adult - even if they are with a child
You can open the unit to assess stock levels or to restock
You can open the unit for any form of repair, maintenance or cleaning
You can open the unit for staff training.
For more information on complying with the rules, visit www.acs.org.uk/advice/