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Wholesalers continued their fight against a possible tobacco display ban at retail when earlier this month the Federation of Wholesale Distributors sent a robust response to the Department of Health on its latest consultation on future tobacco controls. FWD first raised its concerns on this matter in a letter to Dawn Primarolo, the Minister of State for Public Health, last April when the “going dark” idea was first mooted.

Hiding the tobacco gantry, or forcing cigarettes out of sight below the counter in retail shops, is just one of several measures that are supposed to deter under-18 year olds from taking up smoking that are proposed in the recent consultation.

FWD is totally opposed to such a draconian move on the grounds that there is no evidence that it will reduce the prevalence of children who get into the smoking habit, but it would give a huge boost to the illegal tobacco trade.

It would also cause severe damage to the businesses of the 50,000 independent retailers who wholesalers serve. These include high one-off capital costs, the on-going detrimental effects of slower service levels, reduced customer footfall, the loss of incremental sales to tobacco purchasers and, not least, an increased security threat to staff from attack and stock loss.

Among other proposals brought forward in the consultation was the banning of packs of less than 20, requiring all tobacco products to be sold in plain packs and ending advertising for cigarette papers.

FWD accepts that a steady decline in the UK’s number of smokers is both inevitable and desirable. And the Government should be applauded for the good progress it has achieved in bringing down the percentage of adults who smoke over the past decade.

However, we believe that even greater Government action is required to combat the smugglers and counterfeiters of tobacco. In our view, reducing the illegal trade would be of more help in reducing the prevalence of smoking generally, and by under age smokers in particular.

The smuggled and counterfeit market is already huge. Consider the following. It is estimated to cost taxpayers as much as pound;3bn per year whereas smoking-related conditions and diseases cost the NHS an estimated pound;1.5bn per year.

Better by far that the Government gets a firm grip on this and manages the decline of UK tobacco sales through the legal and controllable route to market that is the wholesale/independent convenience channel.

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