Last week, The Sun ran a dramatic double-page spread. The headline screams: “Will new laws make smoking cool again?” It spoke of how research from Australia has shown plain packaging laws have led to an increase in black market tobacco and a rise in youth smoking rates.

As we reported last month, the incoming tobacco laws that could hurt retailers are everyone’s business. What area of the store will suffer next? The obvious place to start is alcohol. 

Alcohol companies have taken up the baton. They all promote responsible drinking, some very prominently. Many have reduced the ABV of certain products. This month, AB InBev agreed to stop selling 500ml cans of 9% Tennent’s Super, and Morrisons became the first retailer to sign up to the Responsible Can Packaging Pledge, which is part of the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal.

Heineken even has adverts selling the virtues of a night of moderate drinking. It is also responsible for one of my favourite pages on the internet, where it helpfully explains on its own website, “What is a hangover?”

And we know retailers have also upped their game on responsible drinking, as Dennis Williams discusses below.

The big tobacco companies obviously won’t stand by the actual headline in The Sun; but they will stand by research that weakens the Government’s argument for proposed new restrictions and laws. The DoH wants a lot more suppliers to sign up to the Responsibility Deal. If they don’t, what then? It’s not hard to see a new Government coming in and steamrollering through more reforms.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to change the words ‘smoking’, ‘tobacco’ and ‘youth smoking’ in the first paragraph to ‘alcohol’ or ‘drinking’. And as the prohibition era tells us, sometimes less regulation is a good thing.

There are already stringent rules on alcohol ads, stopping them appealing to young people or promoting irresponsible behaviour. So will further regulation on alcohol make it ‘cool’ again? We may be some way off but tobacco offers us a warning from the past – and, already, a fear for the future.