Retailers are about to be hit by a wave of new legislation regarding tobacco products - but much of the important detail has yet to be confirmed by the government.
In the next year retailers will have to deal with a ban on non child-resistant lighters, an increase in minimum purchase age and the introduction of pictorial health warnings, as well as a ban on smoking in public places being rolled out to the whole of the UK.
The government's plan to raise the minimum legal purchase age for tobacco to 18 still has many grey areas, not least the proposed changeover date of October 1, 2007, which the government has still to officially confirm. Many in the trade are concerned there will not be sufficient time to inform the public properly about the new law.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "The government needs to communicate clearly what is happening and put
serious funding behind a high-profile campaign."
Doubts have also been raised about pictorial health warnings, which were proposed in May 2006 with a view to introduction in September 2007. UK manufacturers currently lack the print facilities to incorporate the new designs on packs and have suggested to the government that the trade will need 12 months to sell through old stock, making a 2008 implementation date for cigarettes more likely, with other tobacco products following a year later.
From March 11 this year, all lighters supplied by manufacturers must be child-resistant, although retailers will have until March 11, 2008, to sell through any non-compliant stock. Child-resistant lighters have a more complex ignition process, requiring more strength to light.
Novelty lighters will be banned from March 11, although 'prestige' lighters such as Zippos will be exempted.
The ban on smoking in public places - already in place in Scotland - is being rolled out to Wales (April 2), Northern Ireland (April 30) and England (July 1) this year. There is every chance that retailers will benefit from the ban, as figures from the Republic of Ireland show that tobacco sales through the convenience trade have grown by 20% in the three years since the ban on smoking in public places was introduced.
Imperial Tobacco trade communications manager Iain Watkins said: "2007 is a huge year for legislation, and we would advise the trade to be prepared. Our sales force will continue to offer category expertise and advice to help retailers."