The news that the government is planning to ban the display of cigarettes in stores, while a natural progression from its plain-packaging initiative, is further proof that politicians do not understand the dynamics at play here.
The introduction of plain packaging removes the ability of consumers to make an informed choice. The removal of the packages from sight altogether is, to be frank, ridiculous and likely to cost the economy more than it saves.
Tobacco has been a consistent force in the UK economy over the past 50 years and, while bad for the health of the population, it is good for the economy. Removing branding from the packaging and trying to remove the product from the public conscious could dramatically affect our ability to export tobacco goods and, therefore, the economy.
In addition to cutting potential export revenues, the government’s proposals could be a cost burden for UK retailers who have to find ways to store the cigarettes away from the public eye. These costs could prove too much for the smaller independent stores. Tobacconists may well disappear from the UK and yet, because of duty free [shops], smoking levels could remain high.
Ministers have clearly not done their homework. Putting products you are trying to deflect attention from in bland packing and below the counter only serves to make them appear illicit and, therefore, more appealing. Consider the popularity of drugs: illegal drugs are never branded, or indeed packaged in many cases, are not on display but they are still desired and seen as ’cool’ by many young people.
If the government would continue to invest in educating consumers about the health risks of smoking, they would not need to take this extreme action. Isn’t it time it stopped thinking of restrictions to put in place and started spearheading the innovative thinking that will solve problems such as this?