Evidence from Iceland suggests that a ban on the display of tobacco products would have little or no effect on the incidence of underage smoking.
The Icelandic ban, introduced in 2001, has failed to achieve its aim of reducing smoking rates in the country’s under 18s. In fact smoking prevalence among 15-19-year-olds actually increased from 14.4% to 17.5% in the year that the ban was introduced, official figures from Statistics Iceland reveal.
In 2002, smoking prevalence among this age group was the highest it had been for five years at 17.%. Today at 15.2% it still remains higher than it had been before the ban.
Speaking exclusively to C-Store, Icelandic retailer Ragnheidur Aborsteinsd said cigarettes had not lost their appeal to youngsters, or adult smokers, just because they were out of sight. “People smoke just as much as they used to,” she said. “Just because customers can’t see a product doesn’t mean they won’t buy it.”
Since the ban, tobacco products in Ragnheidur’s Nesti forecourt store in Reykjavik have been stored in perspex drawers under the counter. But space is limited, so only a small selection of products can be stored there at any one time.
Ragnheidur’s gantry has been replaced with shelves of high value items such as batteries. “Now the first thing young people see when they approach the counter is condoms,” she said.
Members of the UK’s Department of Health (DoH) visited the Canadian province of Ontario earlier this month to learn more about the workings of a display ban. Ontatio “went dark” in May.