I sold tobacco in my shop for over 20 years. During that time sales stayed relatively stable in cash terms – meaning that I steadily sold fewer and fewer packets.

The reasons why are well known: increasing awareness of the dangers of smoking and substantial increases in taxation and legislation. The latest of which is the display ban that becomes reality on 6th April.

Intrigued by the Tobacco Control papers that such legislation is based upon; I was keen to read ‘The Plain Truth’ by Patrick Basham and John Luik. This aims to give an in-depth review of  tobacco research and an alternative approach to reducing smoking among young people.

I have often found it difficult to understand how Tobacco Control papers met their conclusions. Two of my children have science degrees and have told me since they were at school of the importance of starting research with a hypothesis, setting the methodology, collecting the date and drawing conclusions supported by the findings.

One of the first studies I ever read about involved showing secondary school students photographs of open and closed tobacco displays. The teenagers where then questioned about brand recall to try and understand the likelihood of an open display leading to them smoking.

Would this work? Is this conclusive evidence that brand recall leads to smoking? Unsure – and keen to understand exactly how it would help form legislation – I undertook a small study of my own. I asked 20 of my 13 and 14 year old customers about their tobacco awareness and smoking intentions.  I hypothesised that none of these young customers would find tobacco and smoking of interest – after all, this was an affluent town and the children were from mainly non-smoking families, with non-smoking friends!

After reviewing 43 papers in detail, Basham and Luik appear as mystified as me. They found that many showed poor methodology, lack of empirical evidence and assumptive conclusions – as my small study demonstrated. Based upon this, they suggest that policy needs to focus less on ever-increasing legislation and more on understanding WHY some adolescents start to smoke.

‘The Plain Truth’ is an interesting and useful resource for tobacco retailers. Particularly when it comes to looking at how they can respond to the next legislative proposal, the plain packaging of tobacco and cigarettes…