No news, so they say, is good news. As C-Store goes to press on its last issue of the year, and with less than 10 months left before large stores are supposed to have their tobacco gantries under wraps, it seems increasingly unlikely that a display ban will go ahead in its current form, or at the very least, in the suggested timescale.
It appears the government has finally come to realise what the trade has been telling it all along: that there is no evidence that a display ban would reduce youth smoking, and so to introduce it would be a costly mistake.
In fact, in a display of irony so spectacular that Alanis Morissette should take note, recent health lobby-endorsed evidence has shown that the opposite is true. Last month, a study from Nottingham University showed that the Republic of Ireland has actually experienced an increase in youth smoking since its ban.
Also influencing ministers’ apparent change of heart is the mounting body of evidence which clearly shows that display bans harm small stores. In the words of Andrew Percy MP, the “evidence from Ireland and Canada conclusively shows that the display disproportionately impacts on small retailers and does not have public health benefits”.
Speaking at the launch of the Health White Paper last week, health secretary Andrew Lansley spoke candidly of the need to “take action both to reduce tobacco consumption and to reduce burdens on business”. And small businesses, it would seem, are important to Lansley, who spoke of his desire for a “partnership approach” between retailers and government in tackling the nation’s ills.
Plans for a display ban in its current form would also be strangely at odds with the government’s new strategy for fixing public health in England. Unveiling his plans to “help people live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives,” Lansley said going forward the government would “aim to use the least intrusive approach necessary”.
“There is significant scope to use approaches that harness the latest techniques of behavioural science to do this nudging people in the right direction rather than banning or significantly restricting their choices,” he said.
So far, so promising, but at the same time the future is still unclear. But the delay, although frustrating, also gives us and you another chance to demonstrate how retailers can work in partnership with government to implement meaningful tobacco policies to reduce youth smoking, rather than ineffective and damaging legislation. So until the day when the government finally shows its hand on the retail display of tobacco, we urge you to continue to press your local MP for a more sensible solution.