Monday, May 26, 2008

Cigarette hide & seek

When the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty passed the Smoke Free Ontario Act two years ago, they also banned “power walls”, the displays of cigarettes usually located behind the cash register in convenience stores. The ban takes effect May 31, and the Ontario Ministry of Health Propaganda anticipates voluntary compliance by 90 per cent of retailers by the deadline.

Not only will convenience store owners be forced to cover their tobacco displays, but clerks won’t be able to sell a pack of smokes unless customers tell them the exact brand they want.

The initiative is aimed at limiting children's exposure to the deadly tobacco products, says the Minister of Health Promotion, Margaret Best.

"It's not what you should see, it's what you shouldn't see, and you shouldn't be seeing cigarettes," the Minister said during an interview with CTV. Ms. Best is concerned that the mere sight of a pack of smokes will corrupt our kids; turning them into instant nicotine fiends.

I wonder if anyone has pointed out to the Minister the recent claims by Health Canada that more teenagers use marijuana on a regular basis than smoke cigarettes. And, there are no “power walls” of marijuana to entice kids into experimenting with that particular illegal product. If displays of legal tobacco products offend her tender sensibilities, she’d probably go into cardiac arrest if she were forced to sit through a screening of that thirties classic, “Reefer Madness”.

I stopped by the local convenience store a few days ago; the one I’ve been patronizing for the past fifteen years or so. I used to visit the store on a daily basis. These days, I stop by once a week or so.

I buy my smokes elsewhere. I can buy an entire carton for a few more dollars than I spend on a single pack of legal smokes. I figure if the government isn’t concerned about turning me into a criminal, then I won’t lose any sleep over it.

Convenience stores earn up to 60 per cent of their revenue from tobacco sales. Losing part of that revenue will have serious consequences on their bottom line. And, revenue lost to sales of contraband tobacco is just part of the problem. They also lose out on payments from the industry generated by the brand identification advertising which the tobacco displays represented.

There are also substantial losses incurred through less frequent visits by smokers in need of their daily nicotine fix. With reduced traffic from smokers, sales of impulse items such as confectionaries, soft drinks, breath mints, etc. are also lost.

The owner told me he had been quoted a price of $1200 to have new shelving installed to comply with the new government regulation; money he doesn’t have. He won’t be in compliance by the May 31 deadline. But he will try to hide his tobacco display.

Health Propaganda Minister says retailers have had several years to prepare for new rules. Public health inspectors will be out at the end of the month looking for offenders. Non-compliance could mean fines of up to $5,000. Corporations (chain stores) will face stiffer penalties.

One point should be made concerning this little bit of lunacy. By making tobacco taboo, it will encourage rebellious teens to take up smoking and defeat the intention of the ban.

And, the punitive levels of taxation imposed by senior levels of government have already made cheap contraband more readily available than it would otherwise have been.

A naughty adventure to entice younger teens, rebelious defiance by older teens and cheaper smokes within the teen budget.
The law of unintended consequences at work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The cigarette display banned is practicaly upon us now (May 31st), and I wonder if half of the 10,000 retailers that were not going to be ready for this change, finally prepared for it. For their sake I hope they are. It would be ashame if they didn't find the appropriate solution in time. I would hate to see them get fined.