Politics & Campaigns

ASH Retailer Survey

All Party Group on Smoking and Health Chairman, Bob Blackman MP, calls on government to listen to tobacco retailers

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An All-Party Group on Smoking and Health today heard the results of a survey today showing that the majority of tobacco retailers support existing tobacco laws and also tougher regulations in future including a levy on tobacco manufacturers to pay for measures to help smokers quit and raising the age of sale to 21. Conservative Chairman of the APPG, Bob Blackman, has secured the first backbench debate under the new government on Thursday 3rd November and plans to raise the findings of the survey in the debate.

Bob Blackman MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health, said: “The main argument used by tobacco manufacturers’ against tobacco laws with politicians like me is that they harm small shops. What this survey of nearly 1,000 shopkeepers published today shows is that shopkeepers don’t think that’s true. The majority support existing regulations and want government to go further including by raising the age of sale for tobacco to 21.

“On Thursday in a debate in the main chamber I will be calling on the government to publish a Tobacco Control Plan to deliver the smokefree 2030 ambition without further delay. I’ll be urging the government to listen to retailers who want government to implement tougher regulations, that’s what they think will be good for business, not de-regulation.”

The full findings of the survey of 961 independent tobacco retailers including newsagents, convenience stores, off-licences and petrol stations, commissioned by charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), were published by ASH today in ‘Regulation is not a dirty word’.

  • 73% support a requirement for tobacco manufacturers to pay a fee to Government for measures to help smokers quit and prevent young people from taking up smoking. (10% oppose)
  • 54% support raising the age of sale for cigarettes from 18 to 21 years (27% oppose)
  • 81% of local retailers in England support the introduction of a mandatory retail licence in order to sell tobacco (9% oppose)
  • 83% support mandatory age verification for anyone under 25 (5% oppose)

Furthermore, nearly three quarters (71%) support larger fines for breaking the law, 81% support more regular checks by trading standards staff, 84% support quicker action when offences take place and 79% support closure orders for repeated breaches of tobacco laws.

John McClurey, a retired local retailer in Gateshead, said: “I’m not the exception, this survey proves what I have always believed, that the majority of retailers support tobacco regulations and want them to go further. We know that smoking is bad for smokers, and it’s bad for business too as it kills our customers. Tougher regulation would help stop underage sales and sales of cheap and illicit tobacco and is the only way to bring about the end of smoking. The Government should listen to shopkeepers like me and take the tough action needed to deliver a Smokefree 2030.”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “To achieve a smokefree 2030, the government needs to ratchet up regulations to support smokers to quit and to prevent young people starting to smoke. Just like the public, the majority of retailers support key measures needed to bring smoking to an end, such as increasing the age of sale, introducing a tobacco licence and making tobacco manufacturers pay to help smokers quit.

"Retailers aren’t anti-regulation, they know that good regulation can make their lives easier by ensuring there’s a level playing field. That’s why they want to see the gaping hole in retail regulation closed through the introduction of a mandatory tobacco licence backed up by stronger penalties for breaking the law.”

John Herriman, Chief Executive Chartered Trading Standards Institute said: “Trading Standards professionals deal with tobacco retailers everyday, and we know that the majority of them are law abiding, and understand the need for increased enforcement to stop unscrupulous traders willing to sell cheap and illicit tobacco, and to sell to children. A mandatory licence to sell tobacco and age verification for anyone who looks under 25 would make it easier for trading standards to enforce the law, to the benefit of reputable retailers.”

There is currently no licensing scheme in place for tobacco, a product which kills up to two thirds of its users and no mandatory age verification both of which are supported by over 8 in 10 local retailers of tobacco.

Retailers are used to complying with alcohol licensing schemes and are already required to have an economic operator ID before they can trade in tobacco as part of tobacco pack tracking regulations. Mandatory age verification for anyone looking under 25, as has been the case in Scotland since 2017, would make enforcement in England easier both for tobacco and alcohol.

A requirement for tobacco retailers to be licenced could help prevent sales to children and illicit tobacco by giving local authorities greater powers to take effective action against those who do not adhere to the regulations.

Regarding vaping, the report says: “In the last ten years the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices has become a familiar sight. These products have not, however, displaced tobacco products from retailers’ shelves and sales of tobacco products remain much more common than sales of e-cigarettes.

“Among surveyed retailers, 77% said that on a normal day a quarter or more of their customers bought tobacco products. In comparison, only 40% said that a quarter or more of their customer bought e-cigarettes or vaping products.”

Retailers reported having “mixed views about the value of e-cigarettes and vaping products to their business.”

The survey found that 37% of retailers were not interested in expanding the vaping side of their business despite recognising that vape sales will continue to grow into the future.

Over half (51%) thought that e-cigarettes would be more important to their business in 10 years’ time compared to only 7% who thought that tobacco would be more important.”

Worryingly, 69% supported the ASH’s proposal to ban colours, cartoon characters, and names of sweets on e-cig packaging.


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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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