LONDON, March 9, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Federation of Retail Newsagents feel angered and let down by the government's decision to push ahead with a ban on the display of tobacco products while simultaneously pursuing the notion of plain packs. A shop with plain packs that are hidden would be impossible to operate efficiently. Government Ministers have admitted the display ban lacks evidence and will seriously damage small shops[i].
In opposition, the Conservatives pledged to bring the relevant legislation back to parliament for a free vote, while the Liberal Democrats said they would amend the relevant regulations to allow for limited display.
The concessions to worried retailers on permissible display size and gantry doors, revealed this morning, will be welcome but require further clarification as they show little appreciation of how a small shop actually works. The delay in implementation will help retailers prepare but does not alleviate their concerns.
The NFRN welcomed the Prime Minister's speech at the Conservative Spring Conference where David Cameron declared war on "every regulator, every official, even bureaucrat" who persist in "loading costs on to business" and "concoct those ridiculous rules."
The suggestion of plain packaging for tobacco products is another example of absurd regulation. With the prospect of both a display ban and plain packs, the position for retailers is worse than envisaged. Imposing both would be farcical and retailers fear that plain packaging will lead to a surge in smuggling.
NFRN National President Parminder Singh commented:
"This is a government which makes great claims about being pro-small business. This is a Prime Minister who makes all the right noises about deregulation for small shops. And yet today they have failed utterly to deliver on these promises for the shopkeepers of Britain. All we ask for is evidence based policy making.
Over the last few months more than 80 MPs have given their support to a cross party backbench initiative led by Mike Weatherley and Adrian Sanders which called on the government to conduct a full re-examination of the evidence both for and against a ban.
The NFRN argues that the display ban is a red tape issue, an example of heavy handed regulation disproportionately hurting small shops, not a health one as demonstrated by all independent evidence[ii] which shows that the measure fails to reduce levels of smoking.
The ban will damage retailers, forcing many out of business due to the high costs of converting their shops and the loss of trade that would follow. Furthermore it will transfer market share from independents to supermarkets, irreparably damaging communities and reducing choice for customers.
The NFRN is supportive of the government's aim to reduce levels of smoking but has consistently said that this could be done more effectively by making proxy purchasing of tobacco illegal; increasing access to Nicotine Replacement Therapy and cracking down on illicit and smuggled tobacco - which is the form most likely to be smoked by adolescents as it is an unregulated market.
Parminder Singh added:
"The government has failed to listen to the evidence and to the 80 Coalition MPs who support small retailers in their constituencies. It is nothing short of a disgrace that not only has the government ignored its pre election promise pledge to bring the proposed ban back for debate in parliament , but is now thinking of throwing in plain packs on top of it. How can we operate shops with products that all look the same and are in hiding? The NFRN needs to be consulted on plain packaging and this time we hope that the consultation is objective and evidence based."
[i] Earl Howe, Former Conservative Shadow Health Minister in 2009 and now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, said in the House of Lords on 6 May 2009:
"I believe that the Government's position (the display ban) is wrong for two main reasons: the evidence base, and the likely damage that will be done to small shops. I have looked at the evidence base very carefully indeed, and I do not believe that a ban on the display of cigarettes in shops can be plausibly linked to the take-up of smoking by the young. It is policy based on weak scientific data, and it is policy where the unintended collateral damage is likely to be unacceptable. For that reason it should be rejected."
Mike Penning MP, Former Shadow Health Minister and now a Transport Minister, stated the Conservative commitment for revisiting the display ban on 26 April 2009: "I know that many responsible retailers will feel their views haven't been taken into account over the Government's ban on cigarette displays. The need to reduce the number of smokers in this country is clear, but I do not think it can be right to impose additional risk and burdens on shops to introduce a measure for which evidence is lacking. I am not a lawyer but I have always been concerned whether the Government's legislation on this is legal. Therefore a challenge by way of a Judicial Review seems a sensible thing to do. My party, if elected, would bring the Government's proposals back before Parliament, but with a crucial difference - we would give a free vote for Conservatives. Labour pushed the ban through by imposing the strongest possible obligation on its MPs to vote in favour of the plans. By contrast I believe that elected representatives should be able to vote according to their consciences."
[ii] Ireland: Smoking rates among children increased following the ban, from 10% to 10.5% for regular smokers, and from 1% to 3% for those who smoke less than once per week
Canada: An Institute of Economic Affairs report concludes that the ban has had no balancing public health gain
Iceland: An ESPAD report points to official Icelandic Government data showing that the ban has had no impact on smoking among 15-19 year olds, with smoking among that group being at its highest level for five years in the year after the display ban
Australia: Any suggestion that a ban has reduced smoking is deceiving - no post ban smoking prevalence figures have been released.
SOURCE National Federation of Retail Newsagents