Putting tobacco out of sight helps put it out of mind and doesn't harm business

Cancer Research UK

Putting tobacco out of sight in shops not only changes young people’s attitude to smoking but doesn’t result in retailers losing money - according to new research published in Tobacco Control today (Friday).

In a new study* – carried out by researchers at the University of Nottingham and funded by Cancer Research UK, the Office of Tobacco Control in Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society – results show the number of teenagers who recalled tobacco displays dropped from 81 per cent to only 22 per cent after 1st July 2009 when the displays were removed in the Republic of Ireland.

After they were removed, fewer young people believe smoking is widespread among their peers. Before this 62 per cent thought that more than one in five children their own age smoked. This fell to 46 per cent afterwards.

After displays were covered up, 38 per cent of teenagers thought the measure would make it easier for children not to smoke and 14 per cent of adults thought the law made it easier to quit smoking.

The research also showed that support for putting tobacco out of sight rose from 58 per cent to 66 per cent after the measure came into force.

A second study** looked at cigarette sales data from shops in Ireland before and after tobacco displays were removed and cigarette vending machines were prohibited on July 1st 2009.

There was no significant change in sales following the implementation of the legislation beyond the already existing trend of falling sales.

Similar legislation is due to be introduced across the UK.

Professor Ann McNeill, lead researcher based at the University of Nottingham, said: “Our research shows that removing point of sale displays of tobacco has a measureable impact on how young people think about tobacco, and helps underline that they are not ‘normal consumer products.’ The more that can be done to make tobacco less attractive, the more likely we are to prevent young people start smoking.

“The second study is the first of its kind to examine the impact of national legislation to remove point of sale tobacco promotional displays on the retail sector. Its findings contradict several reports coming from the retail sector that cigarette sales have rapidly decreased since the removal of promotional displays and that this decline is due to new legislation.”

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “This research confirms that not only does awareness of tobacco drop after removing tobacco displays but attitudes to how common smoking is, how available tobacco is to young people and how possible quitting smoking is also change for the better. Putting tobacco out of sight will help change the attitude to tobacco of young people. The less common smoking is thought to be the less likely young people are to start.

“The evidence from Ireland showing retailers do not suffer loss of income adds to that from other countries to show that businesses easily adapt when tobacco displays are removed. Claims by the tobacco industry and groups supported by it have been to the contrary, but research-based evidence like this helps to debunk the myths.

“But it is vital to remember why we’ve fought so hard to put tobacco out of sight. Removing tobacco displays in shops will help protect children from tobacco marketing. For too long the law has allowed the flashy, eye-catching walls of cigarettes to remain when most other forms of advertising have been removed. Half of all long-term smokers will be killed by tobacco so doing all we can to stop the next generation from starting to smoke is vital.”

ENDS

For more information contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

* McNeill, A. et al. Evaluation of the removal of point-of-sale tobacco displays in Ireland, 2010. Tobacco Control
** Quinn C, Lewis S, Edwards R, McNeill A. Economic evaluation of the removal of point of sale tobacco promotional displays in Ireland, 2010. Tobacco Control

About Professor McNeill

Professor McNeill is Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, a network of nine universities and one of the five UK Public Health Research Centres of Excellence. She has worked in tobacco control for the past 25 years and her research includes smoking cessation, chewing tobacco, community approaches to reducing smoking, mental health and smoking and nicotine regulation. She sits on numerous expert groups, is involved in international tobacco control research and policy and has previously chaired WHO committees in these areas.