Smoking in public places has been a constant topic of discussion for UK politicians over the past few years, this month culminating in a UK ban on lighting up in the workplace that will come into force from summer 2007.
Yet, what effect this ban will have on the UK market is up for debate, according to manufacturers, who say they can take some of the findings from the ban in Ireland.
Roger Batty, Imperial Tobacco’s national account controller, says it is difficult to gauge the effect the ban has had on the tobacco market there. “The retail marketplace in Ireland is very different from that in the UK. There was some evidence of a decline in sales following the ban, but this seems to have risen back up now and it’s impossible to tell.”
The clampdown on smoking in Ireland has, however, changed the nature of
how people smoke and where purchases are made, he says. “There has been a rise of smoking in cars and in homes, and increased sales through forecourts and convenience stores.”
One thing that producers will take from the Irish ban is the benefit of communication with the trade. “It’s more crucial than ever that the communication with the trade is two-way and that we tell them what is going on,” says Gallaher’s trade communications manager Jeremy Blackburn.
“When the Ireland ban went ahead in 2004, a lot of licensees thought they couldn’t sell cigarettes through pubs, but this wasn’t the case. We need to communicate to them that they shouldn’t destock.”
While the Irish ban hit the licensed trade the hardest, tobacco producers say the pubs that were prepared were the ones that benefited. “Adult smokers are very resilient,” says Batty.
Scotland’s ban next month will provide a further test bed for the upcoming ban in England, and is one that will be scrutinised by the major players.
“We have been looking at the symbol groups in Scotland before the ban comes into place,” says Batty. “If we look at the changes in shopping habits in Ireland [after the ban] then the c-store market needs to gear up a bit. But we think there is a big future in this marketplace still.”
Another challenge to tobacco producers continues to be the ban on advertising, which UK producers have been living with for three years.
Producers say that the ban created a level playing field and has encouraged many to carry out additional work in developing the visual effect in convenience stores and multiple retailers.
“We are getting used to the ad ban,” says Batty. “It gives us very few communication routes but things such as price-marked packs are good vehicles for communications.”
The next challenge will be to deal with any EU regulation changes, such as a possible law on health warnings whereby all tobacco will need to carry pictorial warnings - now commonplace in Canada, Brazil and Thailand.