Packs are disappearing from shelves at airport stores as part of the Scottish Government’s crackdown on tobacco displays to try to discourage smoking.
Experts believe the move could have a major impact on the shops’ income. A proportion of this turnover is passed on to airports – instead of rent – to fund improvements.
World Duty Free, which runs the stores at Scotland’s three busiest airports, has previously acknowledged that tobacco and alcohol sales are “crucial”.
Glasgow airport’s duty free shop, which all passengers have to walk through to reach their flights, removed its tobacco from view a week ago.
Smokers now have to go to a separate part of the store to buy cigarettes and cigars, which are out of sight behind a partition.
Edinburgh airport – Scotland’s busiest airport – will follow suit in the next two weeks.
Prestwick airport’s duty free shop, run by Nuance, said it had covered its tobacco displays with supermarket-style shutters in June.
World Duty Free’s other Scottish store at Aberdeen, which all passengers also have to walk through, will relocate its tobacco in 2015. This is in line with smaller shops that are covered by the second phase of the regulations.
These state that from April this year, tobacco and smoking-related products must only be displayed in duty free shops in a separate “tobacco area” which is not visible from any other part of the premises.
Similar restrictions will come into force at duty frees south of the Border in two years’ time.
Experts predicted the changes would have a strong impact on sales, which would have been even greater if there had been a complete display ban, such as in supermarkets.
Andrew Pentol, tobacco editor for Duty Free News International magazine, said: “Tobacco has long been considered a footfall driver in travel retail and duty free. Tobacco purchases often leads to purchases of other products such as fragrances and cosmetics.
“New regulations relating to tobacco in the UK will have a significant impact on sales in airports, but the implementation of special derogations in the form of tobacco display areas will limit some of the impact.”
World Duty Free declined to say what effect the restrictions were likely to have on sales.
However, its retail operations director, Fred Creighton, said two years ago that UK regional airports – which include Scotland’s – had a “dependency” on tobacco and alcohol sales, and they remained “crucial” to the firm.
Its spokeswoman said: “Due to the complexities and access limitations for construction ‘on airport’, the process of building and installing the tobacco display areas (TDAs) is a lengthy one.
“We have completed the TDA in our Glasgow airport store and are awaiting necessary site access permits to enable us to complete the TDA in our Edinburgh airport store within the next fortnight.”
The first move towards out-of-sight tobacco displays came in 2011 when World Duty Free opened a partially-enclosed area at Birmingham airport.
The shelves are accessed via a special entrance point, but they are still visible from elsewhere in the shop.
World Duty Free said the displays would be completely screened from view, along with those in all other duty free shops in the UK outside Scotland by 2015.
The firm said at the time: “As responsible retailers we are already building structures for TDAs into each of our stores as part of our ongoing refurbishment programme.
“These will be fully closed from view before the April 2015 compliance date.”
World Duty Free said this phased approach south of the Border would help customers get used to the changes – suggesting it could lose out from the more rapid shift in Scotland.
Business affairs director Sarah Branquinho has said: “We believe the ‘soft’ introduction, whereby customers are slowly getting used to moving into a more enclosed space to make their tobacco purchases, is preferable to a sudden move to the fully-enclosed space.
“This is particularly important as many of our customers are perhaps only flying once or twice a year and those from overseas will be used to seeing tobacco on free-standing displays.”
Edinburgh airport said income from duty free – its largest shop – was vital.
Its spokesman said: “The revenue from non-aero sources is a key factor in attracting new airlines and destinations to Edinburgh.”
A spokesman for Glasgow airport said: “It is too early to tell what impact the new tobacco display legislation will have on sales. Retail-generated income allows airports to re-invest in improved facilities and infrastructure; however, it is important we strike a balance.
“We understand and support the [Scottish] Government’s aspirations for a healthier nation and have complied fully with the new regulations.”
For some the move does not go far enough.
The Tobacco Strategy Project Board at NHS Lothian has called for a complete display ban in duty free shops, which it said should be treated like other shops.
It said: “Duty free shops are visited by people of all ages, including young people.
“Consequently, allowing the display and advertising of tobacco within these areas will in effect maintain the visible promotion of tobacco, albeit on a more limited scale.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The tobacco display bans are the right step to prevent young people in Scotland from taking up smoking.”