Plain PackagingAs Australian tobacco retailers face up to only selling plain packets from 1st December I have spoken to two retailers about how this major change is effecting them. Peter Stewart runs a village store in New South Wales and has a relatively small tobacco range with 37 brands. I also contacted Gerard Munday who operates a full range tobacco store under the Cignall banner.

Both of these retailers say that although plain packet tobacco and cigarettes started to appear at the begining of October, progress towards getting the full range changed over is painfully slow. Mr Stewart said that he only had 3 brands in plain packs at the beginning of November and Mr Munday confirms that his business is facing the same issue.

The big challenge that both face is meeting the deadline to having fully stocked gantries at the beginning of December. PS says that he is expecting either wholesaler or tobacco company reps to visit his store to swap his current stock for the new plain pack design.

GM on the other hand is concerned that the plain pack stock is being rather slow in arriving with him and is expecting to have to store a large stock of what will be unsaleable product well into February next year. To help minimise this level of stock he has been restricting his orders to a week by week basis that has lowered stock levels. He also operates a wholesale business so has been guiding his retail customers to do the same.

Both retailers feel frustrated by the amount of information that the Australian government has provided about this significant change. They are equally frustrated by the lack of politicians engagement with them since the plain package legislation was proposed. Gerard Munday says that the newsagency trade press has been very good in giving instruction on how to handle the transition period.

With less than two weeks to go to 1st December both retailers are hoping that the tobacco companies get the full range to them in the new plain packaging livery. The Newsagency Association of New South Wales (NANA) has published some recommendations for tobacco stockists so that they can avoid potential fines of between $1300 to $1.1 million.

As for the impact on their customers neither of these two retailers has yet to notice any change in buying habits. Although some customers are asking for packs with the ‘less graphic’ health warning pictures. As for the retailers both say that plain packets will add time to both the receiving and sales processes as all the different brands look the same.

Most of the tobacco control measures that Governments have adopted to date have been driven by academic research. One of the current leaders in this area is Simon Chapman of Sydney University. His article in PLOS Medicine proposing the case for a smokers license maybe the next step.  His proposal is countered by Jeff Collins of Edinburgh University.