6. Negative Impacts on Small… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Click here for The Counter Arguments that can be used to defeat this industry argument.

Big tobacco argues that plain packaging will negatively impact small retailers and that it will increase transaction times for serving tobacco.

In Australia, the UK, and France, the tobacco companies argued that plain packaging would have negative impacts on small retailers. The industry regularly provides funds to national retailer associations,1 and those associations then oppose tobacco control regulation.

For instance, in Australia, a study commissioned by the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) concluded that:

" retailing times would be adversely affected if standardised packaging were introduced by an additional 15 to 45 seconds per transaction and that the effect would be particularly significant for smaller retailers. "

The AAR set up a website to oppose plain packaging (a screen shot is shown here). However, the AAR was a tobacco industry front group financed by Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco, and British American Tobacco (BAT). Internal tobacco industry and AAR documents that were leaked to the media revealed that the Alliance was set up and run by the tobacco industry to lobby against plain packaging.2 This is an example of Astroturfing, a campaign pretending to be a grassroots initiative, while hiding its true origin, goal, and funding.

Similarly, in the UK, the tobacco industry funded a campaign run by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance that claimed to be a “coalition of 26,000 independent shopkeepers,” but which was established by the industry to oppose tobacco-control measures.3

The JTI submission to the UK 2012 consultation on plain packaging stated that:

" plain packaging will have significant negative effects on retailers. Transaction times will increase. Margins will be eroded by further downtrading. As tobacco products make up a significant proportion of the turnover of many small retailers, plain packaging may have significant cash-flow and credit implications for them. "

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), which receives funds from the tobacco industry, also made submissions to that consultation. It went even further by arguing that plain packaging will:

" significantly increase transaction times and costs in shops as it will take staff twice as long to retail tobacco products and worryingly, it will significantly increase retailers’ vulnerability to crime while they are increasingly distracted retailing tobacco products. "4

A postcard paid for by the NFRN and placed in newsagents across the UK. Image from Tobaccotactics.5

The NFRN was extremely vocal in its opposition to plain packaging and produced postcards that were placed in retail outlets across the UK with misleading images of white plain packs, suggesting that plain packaging legislation will lead to increases in illicit trade, organized crime and terrorism, loss of tax revenue, and more children smoking.5

However, the strong evidence from Australia is that plain packaging has had no real impact on small retailers. This may be the reason why this argument was not used by either JTI or Imperial Tobacco in their consultation responses to the Canadian 2016 consultation.

The Counter Arguments

  • In Australia, transaction times for serving customers with tobacco quickly returned to normal and in some areas decreased. This is thought to result from tobacco products being in alphabetical order and located always in the same place on shelves or gantries, making brands easier to identify and locate.6

  • PMI and BAT funded retailers and retail associations that opposed plain packaging in the UK and France.7 Retail organizations are often fundamental to the tobacco industry campaigns.

  • Tobacco retailers oppose all tobacco-control laws because they reduce the volume of tobacco sales, but this has to be balanced against the huge health and economic benefits that come from fewer people smoking.

Cancer Council Victoria has produced a fact sheet about the impact on small retailers in Australia following the introduction of plain packaging.

  1. Details about the NFRN can be found on the tobaccotactics website here: http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php?title=National_Federation_of_Retail_Newsagents
  2. Details about the Alliance of Australian Retailers can be found on the tobaccotactics website here: http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Alliance_of_Australian_Retailers
  3. Details of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance can be found on the tobaccotactics website here: http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Tobacco_Retailers'_Alliance#Against_Plain_Packaging.
  4. See note 1.
  5. Available from: http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php/National_Federation_of_Retail_Newsagents.
  6. M. Wakefield, M. Bayly, M. Scollo M “Product Retrieval Time in Small Tobacco Retail Outlets before and after the Australian Plain Packaging Policy: Real-World Study.” Tobacco Control 2014;23:70–76. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/23/1/70.
  7. Details available on the tobaccotactics website: http://tobaccotactics.org/index.php/BAT_Funded_Lobbying_Against_Plain_Packagingand here: http://tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Astroturfing.