Tobacco Point Of Sale Restrictions


Above you can see what tobacco counters in British shops used to look like before the most recent restrictions came into force. Below you can see what the same counters look like now…image

Basically the rules which came into force this April are as follows, (these are based on government guidelines issued to retailers);-

FROM MONDAY 6TH APRIL 2015, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

All tobacco products must be covered. You MUST NOT open the tobacco unit and display tobacco products if you are serving a customer who has requested a non-tobacco product.

You can only show a customer your tobacco products if they have made a request to purchase a tobacco product and that you are satisfied that the customer is over 18. If a customer asks to see your tobacco range it may be more appropriate to show them a picture price list. The maximum area you are permitted to reveal to the customer is 1.5 square metres.

You can serve more than one customer at a time but no more than 1.5 square metres of your tobacco display can be revealed each time the unit is opened. The unit must be closed immediately after each activity is complete.

Tobacco products must be covered up whilst being moved around the store.

Notices which state that “It is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18” MUST continue to be displayed by law. Generic signs such as “Tobacco sold here” can continue to be used as well. All branded signage must be removed from the display unit.

You can display prices but there are limitations on how you can display them. Only three types of price displays are permitted: poster style, picture price list and price labels. All three can be used at the same time. A tobacco price list may include brand name, price, units/weight per pack, country of origin (cigars only), type and cut (pipe tobacco only). Poster style tobacco price list must be called “Tobacco product price list”, must not include prices of any other products, must be in Helvetica font with letters no larger than 7mm, use lower case letters after the initial capital letter, be bigger than A3 size, have no border or frame must not use sub headings other than “cigarettes, “hand-rolling tobacco”, “cigars”, “pipe tobaccos” and “other tobacco products”.

Picture price lists are permitted but can only be shown once you are satisfied a customer is over 18 and that the display of a picture price list lasts no longer than is necessary and is not left on permanent display. Letters and numbers must not exceed 4mm in height. Pictures of products must not exceed 50 square cm. Only one price list is permitted per till, and only where tobacco products can be purchased.

The rules in Scotland are very slightly different.

And to all of that I say, Good Grief! What the fuck?

What it actually all means is that you cannot actually see any cigarettes or other tobacco products on display, and unless you have bionic eyesight it is impossible to know the prices for the items you are buying without asking first.

I’m not in the UK much these days since making my home in Switzerland (which fortunately doesn’t have these draconian restrictions) and I guess that is why these things came as quite a shock during a recent visit. So there are two things I would like to say.

Firstly; lets get this out of the way, I think these restrictions will make it a bit harder for people to start smoking or even to continue smoking which I guess is the point.

Secondly however, and this is my main point, this is an unprecedented attack on the consumer rights of smokers which seems to have been overlooked in the state’s desire to control our lives and the choices we make. It has been arbitrarily decided that smokers should not have the right to easily compare and contrast the products we want to buy. How can you compare and choose what products you want to buy if you cannot see them? How am I supposed to know if a new brand or product has come out if there is no advertising and nothing is displayed in shops? Do I not have the right to try new tobacco products? The shops are not even permitted to open the display cases wider so that I can see clearly what options are available.

“A-ha!” Say the health fascists gleefully, “That’s the whole point. Your options will be more and more reduced until you simply don’t have the possibility to buy cigarettes anymore. And that will be for the best because, without sounding arrogant at all, every single one of us risk averse, health fascists know what is better for you than you do! And so that means you don’t deserve, need or get the same consumer rights as everybody else.”

Well fuck that.

Choosing to do things that may be a bit risky is part of what life is about. And practically everybody does some things in their lives which could be hazardous to their own health. It doesn’t mean it WILL hurt you. Not every racing driver dies in an accident and not every smoker dies of a smoking related illness. Moreover careful pedestrians are not immune from being killed in car accidents and people who don’t smoke are not immune from diseases associated with smoking. This legislation won’t stop smoking, it will just drive it more underground. How sensible is that?

Imagine if McDonalds had to cover up it’s logo and you weren’t allowed to see pictures or prices of the meals on offer in its restaurants… I imagine that too much fast food does pretty much as much damage to some people as cigarettes are supposed to do.

And think about alcohol… Imagine if you had to know the name of product you wanted to buy before going into a liquor store or off licence because no cans or bottles were allowed to be on display. If you didn’t know the name of a particular type of beer or a particular kind or vintage of wine, you couldn’t ask for it. Perhaps you could be shown a small sample of the merchandise on offer through a one point five square meter window for a limited number of seconds. You might spot one bottle which appeals to you but only then can you find out if that is a few dollars or a few hundred dollars. In other words both physical space, visual input and time are limited so that you can’t make an informed choice.

No, if this happened in the alcohol industry (or any other industry) it would rightly be condemned as ridiculous and both an outrage and an insult to consumers. But smokers are supposed to just suck it up and not complain.

Of course I am aware that I am fighting a loosing battle here, for the time being at least. In the current climate smokers are classed as third class consumers and the idea that it is morally righteous to control the choices of a large group of the population for the sake of their health seems to go largely unchallenged. Hopefully these draconian laws won’t reach Switzerland too soon…

Perhaps in five or ten years when this experiment in social engineering can be demonstrated to have failed, people who choose to smoke might once again be granted the right to be treated as normal consumers and will once again be free to choose what they want to buy as easily as people can decide what hair product or breakfast cereal they want to pick off the shelf.