Shop survey reveals tight control of tobacco product display by UK tobacco companies

Friday 21 May 2010

A survey of over 100 small shops in England has revealed that tobacco companies have almost total control over the way tobacco is displayed and marketed. Nearly eight out of ten (79%) of retailers who had a tobacco industry funded gantry were forced to comply with certain conditions relating to the size and type of display, and positioning of key brands.

The survey, commissioned by ASH, was conducted to gauge the extent to which the tobacco companies control the display of tobacco products in British shops in advance of the legislation that will ban point of sale displays from 2011. [2] The majority of the current gantries were eye-catching, typically with colourful lit top panels and lighting of the products, while some had illuminated strips down the side. Some displays included tobacco-branded paraphernalia such as clocks.

Although the majority of small retailers had gantries provided by the tobacco industry, some expressed concern about the conditions imposed on them by the industry, particularly the need to stock more products than they would otherwise choose to do. According to one retailer, the industry rep’s insistence that he kept his display fully stocked meant that he had “£3,000 of dead cash”.

The survey of 113 shops located in London and Nottingham found that around a third of independent retailers reported receiving an incentive from the tobacco company reps for selling their products. These ranged from small gifts such as pens, free packs of cigarettes and offers on products to larger schemes such as competitions with prizes including a complete shop re-fit.

Retailer John McClurey commented: “We are always under pressure from the industry reps to broaden our range of stock and try out new products. This means we’re often required to stock products that we wouldn’t otherwise choose to hold. It’s the industry rather than our customers who determine what’s on sale.”

Martin Dockrell, ASH’s Director of Research and Policy said: “The extensive involvement of the industry in providing and monitoring retail displays underlines the importance of implementing policies to end this form of promotion. “

Dr Anna Gilmore, researcher at the University of Bath said: “This study reveals the stranglehold that tobacco companies have over the retail environment. Retailers are not only told what tobacco products to stock but are also subjected to tests and incentive schemes to boost company sales. Many of the practices revealed contravene a 2003 EU Council Recommendation and underline the need for greater restrictions on industry marketing practices.” [3] [4]


Notes and links:
[1] Rooke, C. et al. Tobacco point of sale (PoS) displays in England: a snapshot survey of current practices. Tobacco Control 2010; doi: 10.1136/tc.2009.034447
[2] The tobacco point of sale display ban, enacted as part of the Health Act 2009, will enter into force in October 2011 for large shops (eg supermarkets) and in October 2013 for small shops .
[3] For example, according to a report in the trade journal, Talking Retail this week, a “Marlboro mystery shopper will be looking to see whether retailers are up to speed on this latest brand development from Marlboro”. The inspector will check whether retailers are aware of the new pack design for the Marlboro Gold brand. Retailers passing the mystery shopper test will win an instant prize. (Talking Retail, 18 May 2010)
[4] Council Recommendation (2003/54/EC) recommended member states adopt various tobacco control measures including those to prohibit “the use and communication of sales promotion, such as a discount, a free gift, a premium or an opportunity to participate in a promotional contest or game.”