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Tobacco industry finds new ways to circumvent display ban
August 10, 2017, 4:15 pm

Tobacco companies are offering incentives such as cash bonuses, gifts and hospitality to small businesses and retailers in an attempt to boost sales of their brands and mitigate the effects of new advertising and display bans introduced by authorities

A new study conducted in Scotland, which banned the open display of tobacco products from April 2015, found that retail shopkeepers were offered, and often accepting, a range of incentives in return for preferential practices.

The tobacco industry has, for many years, rewarded retailers who agree to stock, promote and sell tobacco, and to display particular brands prominently on their shelves. Researchers in Scotland expected these practices would decline following the ban on open displays because customers can no longer see the products.

However, the researchers found, tobacco companies have increased pressure on retailers even more to promote tobacco. They are not only offering retailers payments and rewards but also providing substantial lump sums to make verbal recommendations to customers to try a particular brand.

The tobacco industry has pursued similar incentive-driven schemes in Australia and Canada, where point-of-sale bans are also in place. The Scottish team found incentives were often incorporated into existing partnership or loyalty schemes with points redeemable against cash or gifts, including hospitality, iPads and business equipment. Some of the retailers also received a cash bonus for keeping a gantry in their store.

As part of one tobacco promotion, retailers were told they would be visited by a mystery shopper who would ask for a rival brand. Retailers who instead recommended another product that the company wished to promote would receive a lump sum as a reward.

Most of the retailers were given assistance by tobacco companies before the ban took effect to adapt their gantries to comply with the legislation, which requires tobacco products to be kept out of plain sight in units behind doors or roll down covers.

"The strategies identified in our study are likely to be adopted in other countries with, or planning to implement, a display ban," warned the study team. The study suggested the practice could be ended by introducing a complete ban on company payments to retailers, reducing the number of shops selling tobacco in any given area, banning sales near schools and offering retailers incentives to stop selling tobacco.

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