Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Retailers unite against European tobacco restrictions

Retail representatives of eleven European nations including the UK's National Federation of Retail Newsagents have met in Brussels to demonstrate joint opposition to restrictions on tobacco.

The revisions follow 'an EC "consultation"' that took place in 2010: the questions offered the possibility that EU member states should be allowed to legislate for themselves on tobacco control issues. The Commission's decision to pursue policies and restrictions throughout Europe gives its opponents a strong motivation to join forces.

Arguments will be dismissed as the work of tobacco company propaganda – just as licensees up and down the country who watched their takings plummet following the smoking ban were told that 'the recession' was to blame for their struggling trade.
"These measures will mean huge costs for retailers along with an explosion of the black market, presenting a threat to more than half a million small retail businesses in the EU," said Giovanni Risso, chairman of the European Confederation of Tobacco Retailers which hosted the Brussels meeting.
The retailers say existing legislation has already forced business closures, thanks to the rise in the smuggling of cheaper illegal cigarettes. Now they say standardised packaging would make products even easier to counterfeit - and banning the more addictive ingredients in tobacco would trigger an illicit market in stronger cigarettes.
They are persuaded that this approach to tobacco will make legitimate sales harder without reducing the demand for the product, and that illegal traders will reap the benefits. It is hard to see how further restrictions in the legal trade in tobacco can fail to benefit rogue traders.

The proposals mimic the Australian unbranded packaging model. A popular argument claims that the branding must be worth sales to tobacco companies, since the threat of its removal has provoked them into a reaction. But it's not that simple: brand identity is important in the marketplace to protect against cheap imitation, and on health grounds alone you would think that distinctive brand-packaging would win the support of the so-called 'health lobby'. Even an Australian anti-smoker has been won over on the argument that government has no right to tamper with the brands of legally traded products.
This legislation will see the potential destruction of brands that have been legally built up over many years. Quite simply, this puts the spotlight squarely where it should be. This is a debate about the freedom of the marketplace, and the boundaries of government restrictions to legal trade. The government, in my opinion, has no right whatsoever to actively seek the destruction of brands that are legally traded in the marketplace. Yes, it has every right to persuade people to choose not to smoke. And it has a duty to publicise the health risks of smoking, if for no other reason than relieving the pressure on the public purse of the exorbitant costs of treatment ... 
I wish the traders from these eleven European countries a productive association. Their case is compelling.


JJ said...

So the fight back has really begun in earnest then?

Belinda said...

The retailers have certainly been fighting well.