ASH’s survey on proposals of new tobacco laws

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There has been a discussion for a long time on the possible introduction of more regulations being introduced on tobacco products in a bid to aid the governments plans of England becoming a “Smokefree” country by the year 2030. The talk of more regulations on vaping products has also been discussed, with the suggestions of retailers requiring a licence to sell tobacco products also bought up. I’ve previously written an article on this which you can read HERE.

In a form of continuation of that article, I’m going to take a look at the report released by Action on Smoking and Health where they surveyed local retailers to gather their views on proposals that could be made to bring in new tobacco laws.

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The report released by ASH

Action on Smoking and Health are a public health charity set up by a team from the Royal College of Physicians to end the harm caused by tobacco. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you would have seen me refer back to their studies and reports a lot as the work they do is absolutely fantastic and they are a trust worthy source of information.

Their most recent report, published November 2022, publishes the results of a survey conducted between March and April 2022 where local retailers were asked questions to gain understanding of their attitudes towards selling tobacco and the proposals for new measures to further reduce the harm of tobacco, as well as gaining their views and feelings towards selling E-Cigarettes and other vaping products.

Who was asked?

As mentioned, the survey was conducted across the months of March and April 2022, via telephone interview. NEMS, the company who conducted the survey on behalf of ASH, compiled a list of the 27,950 managers of small shops in the UK that sold tobacco and vaping products. Of which 9,680 were contacted and 961 agreed to take part in the survey. Only 10% of the total number of managers contacted were willing to take part in the survey, which is a shame to see such a low number of people willing to comply with the survey, but still, 10% is better than 0%!

Retailers included off-licences, newsagents, local convenience stores/supermarkets, tobacconists and independently run petrol stations. The findings of the survey documented in this report and what I will look at is just from the answerers of the questions that are based in England which makes up 746 of the 961 total.

Retailers’ attitudes towards tobacco and the tobacco industry

The first section of the report focuses on the answers received from the questions relating to tobacco and the tobacco industry, and some of the results make for interesting reading.

The views from retailers regarding profit margins were very mixed, with 72% of retailers admitting they didn’t make a lot of profit on a packet of cigarettes when comparing to other things. As well as this, 44% of retailers felt that tobacco and cigarettes had a stronghold on their finances, with a lot of their money being taken up each week to stock tobacco which may or may not sell. Despite this all though, 76% of retailers admitted tobacco was an important part of their business as people normally bought other things alongside tobacco when visiting.

A lot of retailers also revealed that their tobacco/cigarette “hubs” were paid for by tobacco companies, and a large majority of them received monthly visits from tobacco reps from different companies, which gave them the feeling that tobacco companies cared about their business. 15% of retailers reported it had been 6 months or more since their last visit from a rep though.

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The impact of tobacco control legislation on retailers’ business

Ever since 2015, legislations have been drip fed in to the selling of tobacco products, with the introduction of closed door tobacco hubs/kiosks, followed in 2016 by the introduction of same, plain packaging for all cigarettes and tobacco pouches sold in the UK and finally in 2020, the banning of menthol cigarettes being sold in the UK completed the legislations being enforced. The survey questions then related to whether or not these legislations had in fact had any impact on the sale of tobacco within the retailers premises.

74% of retailers said the closed door tobacco hubs hadn’t had any positive nor negative impact on the sales of cigarettes

75% of retailers said the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco and cigarettes hadn’t had any positive nor negative impact on the sales of cigarettes

And 56% of retailers said the banning of Menthol cigarettes hadn’t had any positive nor negative impact on the sales of cigarettes. 30% of retailers said that the banning of menthol cigarettes did have a negative impact on their sales of tobacco/cigarettes.

Retailers support and thoughts on the proposal of new measures to reduce the harm of tobacco

The next section of the survey is arguably the most interesting where the survey questions relate to the proposals of some new measures that could be introduced to reduce the harm caused by tobacco, and getting the thoughts of the retailers on the proposals.

The proposals made were:

Increasing the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 years old – 54% supported this, whilst 27% opposed this proposal.

Introduction of a tobacco licence being required for sellers of tobacco products – A whopping 81% supported this, whilst a minute 9% opposed this.

Requiring a mandatory Age verification process for buyers of tobacco products who looked under 25 – A huge 83% supported this whilst only 5% opposed.

Manufacturers having to pay a fee to the government to help support smokers quit – 73% supported, 10% opposed.

It’s interesting that so many retailers are behind the idea of a tobacco licence being required, yet the same support for the legal smoking age and tobacco companies having to pay a fee to aid in smokers quitting smoking isn’t quite matched.

They also were asked about proposals regarding increasing the enforcement of current tobacco laws, by making the punishments to offenders harsher. They are as follows;

Larger fines – 71% supported

Loss of Alcohol licence – 54% supported

Loss of lottery terminals – 49% supported

More checks by trading standards and quicker action following offences – 84% and 81% supported

Closure orders for repeat offenders – 79% supported

More interesting reading there, with a big support for more checks and quicker action taken by Trading standards. As I’ve covered in my previous article surrounding this, unfortunately Trading standards authorities across the country are at breaking point, due to increased workloads, funding cuts and decreased staffing levels meaning they have their work cut out for them, and more checks and quicker action won’t happen unless the government steps in to provide more funding which is what it seriously needs!

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Retailers attitudes towards Vaping and E-Cigarettes

On to the final part of this survey, and it looks at the attitudes and thoughts about Vaping and E-Cigs from the retailers taking part in the survey.

When asked whether Vaping products are more popular than cigarettes/tobacco products, the general consensus was that tobacco still remains more popular, with 77% of retailers saying that a quarter of their customers bought tobacco products, whereas only 40% of retailers said a quarter of their customers by something related to E-Cigarettes.

Interestingly 53% of retailers had admitted they had adapted their tobacco kiosks/hubs to display vaping products, as the regulations that apply to cigarettes do not apply to Vaping products, and they can freely be displayed in sight of all customers.

The final question the retailers were asked, and arguably the most interesting is the retailers view on the importance of e-cigarettes and tobacco to their business in 10 years’ time.

E-Cigarettes – 51% of retailers believed that they would be more important, with 23% saying just as important and 13% saying they would be less important.

Tobacco – 7% of retailers believed that it would be more important, 44% saying just as important and surprisingly a massive 40% saying it would be less important.

Very interesting to see such a huge swing on the thoughts of E-Cigs being more important and Tobacco being less important in the next 10 years.

Conclusion 

These survey results were an interesting read and gave a good insight to retailers thoughts and views on the current state of affairs as well as looking forward to the future. I think some more control being introduced on tobacco wouldn’t be a bad thing, and certainly stand behind those who believe Vaping will be considerably more important within the next 10 years. 

I’d like to thank Action on Smoking and Health for continuing to work endlessly with their surveys and reports, and the work they do for the future of Vaping and reducing tobacco harm.

Source: Retailer-research-report-online.pdf (ash.org.uk)

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