Retailers oppose move to ban smoke displays

It's likely Palmerston North Labour MP Ian Lees-Galloway's attempt to ban shops from displaying tobacco will get its first hearing in Parliament next week and while he is hailing it as the next step towards fighting smoking, retailers are unhappy.

If passed, the Smoke-free Environment (Removing Tobacco Displays) Amendment Bill would also ban paraphernalia like lighters and papers from being visible.

This worries Palmerston North tobacconist Richard Green, who says he would have to cover up 75 per cent of his stock, costing him, he reckons, about $10,000 across his three stores – two in the city and one in Whanganui.

He says he hasn't seen any information that proves banning tobacco displays will deliver a "marked reduction" in the number of smokers.

Mr Lees-Galloway disagrees. He says there is no reason why tobacco companies won't help out with the bill for any changes, should his measures pass, though he accepts there will be some cost to retailers.

And both he and anti-smoking lobby group ASH say the ban has worked in countries like Canada and Iceland and several states in Australia.

Mr Lees-Galloway says banning displays will lower awareness of tobacco among children and stop people trying to quit from giving into temptation when they walk into the dairy to buy milk or bread.

There is nothing worse, he reckons, than being confronted with a wall of cigarettes while trying to quit smoking.

Mr Green says the measure would be a failure.

"They're trying to throw stones at smokers to try and see what works. They've tried Quitline and it hasn't worked very well."

Price rises have meant only that smokers are lighting up less, not that there are fewer of them, he says.

"Why don't they leave the retailers alone? It's a legal product. It should be able to be sold as we see fit."

Mr Green and other retailers would get the chance to have their say should Mr Lees-Galloway's bill pass its first reading, the MP says.

Former smoker Stephanie Hansen says she doesn't think the ban will meet its objectives.

She's given up cigarettes three times – the latest attempt has lasted nine months.

Seeing cigarettes would have no effect on her if she wasn't intending to buy tobacco, Miss Hansen says. The only thing that makes her think of drawing on a smoke is watching others light up.

But Palmerston North psychotherapist Barbara Smith, who helps people kick the habit, says it will absolutely would make a difference if tobacco was put out of sight.

"The longing for a cigarette is instant."

This, and minimising exposure to children, is why ASH supports the bill.

"Make no mistake, the displays are not accidental," communications manager Michael Colhoun says.

Rather they are a tobacco industry marketing ploy, one of the few left since sponsorship and media advertisements were banned.

A recent survey indicated 75 per cent public support for the move, which could influence MPs' voting, Mr Colhoun says.

Retailers' Association of New Zealand spokesman Barry Hellberg says the annual increase in excise tax on tobacco is a more effective at making people stop or cut back.

He directed the Manawatu Standard to the association's submission to a Ministry of Health review into tobacco displays, which questions the need for the move.

Fewer New Zealanders are smoking anyway, the submission says, and any ban would impose costs on retailers.

Should tobacco displays have to be hidden the cost to about 4520 outlets would top $3 million in total.

A health ministry spokesman says it will be able to say "early next week" when its review will be finalised.

Bills that pass their first reading are sent to a select committee, where the public can make submissions, before two more votes in Parliament.

Manawatu Standard