Our own experience of dark markets in other countries is extensive. In France, for example, we launched John Player Special American and the brand's market share has grown in the past three years by 20%, driven by developed, focused point of sale material and better sales distribution. In the French roll-your-own tobacco market, our Golden Virginia brand has continued to gain market share over the past three years, despite significant price increases.
Established brands will retain market share through careful management. Those newly launched can also gain a foothold, without consumer advertising and sponsorship,through increased investment in specialised trade communications.
Australia is another country where the advertising of tobacco products is forbidden. Brand switching has decreased because awareness of one brand over another has reduced ­ but there has been little or no effect on overall consumption.
The effects on the UK trade will bear consequences, but the industry will do everything it can to help traders through the transitional period. We may be prohibited from communicating with our consumers ­ effectively removing the principal means of competition between manufacturers, but we have had time to prepare for compliance. Until the government's draft regulations have been issued and the details of the Bill have been through consultation, we can only speculate on the extent of the compliance necessary. Imperial Tobacco would welcome an opportunity to work constructively with the government to ensure that the final legislation is both practical and workable.
We are not opposed to sensible regulation, but we do not believe that banning tobacco advertising and preventing us from talking on a one-to-one basis with our adult consumers will achieve the government's aim of reducing cigarette consumption. The prime role of advertising, in a mature market, is to encourage existing consumers to switch brands. The stronger brands are more likely to succeed in a dark market.
The ban is not the only legislation directly affecting us now. We are also working on changes proposed by the EU Product Directive to the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products. The directive brings in new health warnings on the front and reverse of packs, limits on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide content, as well as new product descriptors, which will prohibit the use of phrases such as lights' and mild'. Again, retailers don't need to act on this yet. We will make announcements as and when necessary, and will work closely with our customers to ensure they fully comply with the new regulations ­ with plenty of time to ensure effective stock rotation.
It may be a challenging time for the industry, but tobacco products remain a vitally important part of the business mix for UK retailers, with around 15 million smokers continuing to generate sales worth more than £12bn a year.