Earlier this month ASH published a report on how they see the future of tobacco control. It has an objective of bringing smoking levels down to 5% within 20 years.

Their key new policy suggestions include:

  • Licensing for retailers who sell tobacco.
  • An increase in the tax escalator which will see prices rise by inflation plus 5% each year.
  • A minimum unit price for all tobacco products.
  • Pushing to make RYO and ready-made cigarettes the same price.
  • A new annual levy – the Tobacco Companies Obligation – on the industry to fund further tobacco controls.
  • A 25p per pack “User Levy” could be introduced.

Is this heresy?

Since 1998 when the White Paper on Tobacco was published, independent tobacco retailers campaigned hard to stop the health lobby’s objective of significantly reducing the numbers of people who smoke. From the abolition of tobacco advertising in stores to the display ban – every policy has been brought into law. These campaigns have failed.

It may be a heresy to suggest, but is it time to stop protesting and accept what appears to be inevitable of the Department of Health bringing these proposals forward. And based on the experience of the last 17 years, they will become law. Worse still is that from the vote on plain packaging at the end of the last Parliament, the vast majority voted for tobacco control.

Time for action

With the already reducing number of smokers to less than 19% of the adult population, coupled with the continuing squeeze on tobacco profit margins, the cost of stocking the category will become more expensive. Therefore, retailers and their key supply partners and trade associations need a plan to replace this.

The ASH strategy looks to reduce the number of adult smokers to 13% by 2020. In my view, the retailers who will need to act first will be those that have an affluent customer base. They will already know that tobacco isn’t the category that it used to be for them. Time for action is now.