Plan to eliminate smoking would hit convenience sector hard

A radical new goal to eliminate smoking in Australia could mark the end of cigarette sales through convenience stores.

Australia is already a global leader in tobacco control, with less than 15 per cent of Australians being smokers. But the Centre for Research Excellence on Achieving the Tobacco Endgame (CREATE) is developing a plan to eliminate smoking in Australia completely.

Centre Director Associate Professor Coral Gartner said the team’s purpose was ambitious, but clear.

“CREATE’s goal is to determine the optimal mix of strategies that will help Australia become a smoke-free nation and produce a roadmap outlining how we can implement these strategies,” she said.

Some of the proposed endgame strategies include reducing the number of retailers able to sell tobacco products, prescription-only sales through pharmacies, and ending cigarette sales to everyone born after a certain year.

But Jeff Rogut, the CEO of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) says that limiting cigarette sales to pharmacies would be a significant disadvantage to convenience retailers where the tobacco segment is worth $3.4 billion (AACS State of the Industry Report 2019).

“Surely [the pharmacy] sector [is] already sufficiently advantaged,” says Rogut. “Do we really need to further restrict competition? Are we going to continue to ignore the 20 per cent of the total tobacco market supplied by illegal sources?

“If Government is serious about reducing smoking perhaps it’s time to consider actual consumer behaviour instead of investing in increasingly draconian, unproven theoretical stabs in the dark.”

Rogut suggests the introduction of e-cigarette products as a way of helping reduce traditional smoking rates in Australia.

“Many adult consumers who smoke make their tobacco purchases from convenience stores. Imagine if, via the same store, they had the choice to purchase a vaping product, which is considerably safer for them instead,” he says.

“Why are we making it harder for people to make better choices for their health? Because of political personal beliefs? Why don’t the ‘experts’ also learn from countries who are having success e.g. New Zealand that have regulated and legalised vaping.

“So many questions. And yet the only answers that seem to warrant consideration are from ‘experts’ with no retail expertise, and no understanding of consumer purchasing behaviours, who come up with increasingly draconian, non-evidence-based guesses. So many missed opportunities and making safer choices for consumers harder.”

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