This week, the ACS (Association of Convenience Stores) has welcomed the Government’s decision to review the ban on tobacco displays in retail stores and warned that the proposed reforms would cost £1,800 per store to introduce. Although it’s not guaranteed that the ban will be overturned, if the government does decide to do so they will send out a clear message that they are serious about reducing regulatory burdens and allowing greater personal and business freedoms.
Under the guise of tackling youth smoking and the burden that smokers place on the NHS, the past government had set into motion a ban that would prove both anti-competitive and excessively punitive for small businesses. Worse still, the ban has little justification: in Canada, the introduction of a display ban led to the closure of many convenience stores and no change in youth smoking habits. Hiding the brands and presence of tobacco in shops will not cut down on the amount of underage smokers, and instead fuel the growing market of contraband cigarettes. So there is no factual justification that removing the display of tobacco will reduce youth smoking, but from Canada, clear evidence that the aims of the ban will not be met and will damage small businesses.
Without doubt this ban should be overturned. Amongst the Coalition MPs, approximately a third have a background in business. This is good news: we need a government that supports small businesses and that seeks to remove the heavy load of laws and regulations brought in by the past government. But going further than that, we need a pro-freedom government as well as a pro-business one. We need the end of a nanny state, which seeks to bring in ‘fat taxes’ and hide fag packets from the consumer. And an end to governments telling us what to eat and how to treat our bodies, using damaging legislation and wasteful initiatives to enforce their dictates. The issue of tobacco control and public health is an area that has long been overdue for an injection of proportionality and common sense - let’s hope we see plenty of it in this review.