Researchers found tobacco companies are offering rewards, including cash bonuses, to small businesses in an attempt to boost sales.
Legislation banning the display of cigarettes and other tobacco products in small shops in Scotland came into force in April 2015. The Display research team – a collaboration between the universities of Stirling, St Andrews and Edinburgh, and ScotCen – interviewed 24 independent retailers, including convenience stores, newsagents and petrol stations.
The retailers reported being offered and accepting incentives in return for practices such as retaining a tobacco unit, maintaining stock availability, positioning products to maximise prominence, a push on sales, trialling new stock and brand promotions.
While such incentives were offered to retailers before the display ban, the study indicated they had become more prevalent and easier to obtain afterwards.
It also found a majority of retailers – 17 out of 24 – were also given assistance by companies before the ban took effect to adapt their display unit to comply with the legislation, which requires tobacco products to be kept out of plain sight in units behind doors or roll down covers. The study warned that the ban does not prevent tobacco firms from “attempting to exert influence on retailers via their sales reps”.
Martine Stead, lead author of the study, said: “The tobacco companies rely on retailers even more to promote tobacco now that displays are covered up. They are still offering them payments and rewards, including substantial lump sums to make verbal recommendations to customers to try a particular brand.”
But Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, said: “This is a desperate attack on a legitimate consumer goods industry for supporting and working with retailers in a way which is no different from any other industry working in a similar competitive environment.
“It also shows a complete lack of understanding of the scope and application of existing legislation such as the display ban. If the tobacco industry presented a study based on this sample size it would rightly be ignored or derided - given there are 50,000 independent stores across the UK, it is concerning that this survey is being presented as something that’s more than the sum of its parts and which has presumably used public funding in the process.”