Government to shops: hide your cigarettes

Citing Norwegian precedent that reduced teenage smoking, left-of-centre parties push to put cigarettes under cover

In the near future, when you are standing at the checkout at Netto, you may no longer see a wall of cigarette brands staring you in the face.

Members of the governing parties want to make grocery stores hide cigarette packages from customers, instead of the current practice of displaying them front and center, at eyeball height, right behind the cashier, reports Berlingske newspaper.

The politicians say that displaying cigarettes at the cash registers, right where customers reach for their wallets, is as good as advertising them.

“When the cigarettes are visible, it’s an advertisement. They should be hidden away, behind a curtain, for example, so that they won’t tempt consumers,” the Radikale’s health spokesperson Camilla Hersom told Berlingske.

Radikale, along with its governing partners, Socialdemokraterne and Socialistisk Folkeparti, intend to present a bill in parliament in the spring banning the visible display of cigarettes.The measure has the support of government ally Enhedslisten, giving it an apparent majority to pass.

ThatÂ’s unlikely to happen without a fight, however. The opposition and business organizations are already rallying to block it.

A spokesman from Dansk Erhverv, the Danish Chamber of Commerce, predicted that the bill would end up hurting grocers by forcing them to spend money – as much as a combined 500 million kroner – to buy cabinets for the cigarettes.

“We don’t want to see shops hit with those expenses. Anyway, it’s a little bizarre that we should be forced to hide legal goods,” said Lotte Engbæk Larsen, the food policy manager for Dansk Erhverv.
Larsen did not say whether the 500 million kroner included projected lost cigarette sales.

Sophie Løhde, the health spokesperson from the leading opposition party, Venstre, said legislating what customers could and could not see in a grocery store was a “nannying mindset”.

Løhde added that she did not believe that hiding cigarettes would help to decrease smoking.

The government parties note, however, that when Norway introduced a similar law in 2009, banning the visible display of cigarettes in supermarkets, it saw a 4.8 percent drop in smoking. That ban was accompanied by other strong deterrents, including a sharp hike in cigarette prices. Denmark is already adopting that tactic – albeit to a lesser degree than Norway did – effective 1 January 2012.

The Danish Cancer Society, Kræftens Bekæmpelse, was critical of the government’s modest three-kroner per pack price hike on cigarettes. They noted that an even heftier ‘sin tax’ would be more effective. But the health organisation was extremely positive about the latest proposal to hide cigarettes.

Experts who studied the effects of NorwayÂ’s law change noted that hiding cigarettes had no effect on smoking among adult smokers with entrenched habits. Teenagers, however, who are just becoming curious about smoking and are especially receptive to advertisements and peer pressure, are far less likely to pick up smoking if they cannot see the cigarettes and have to ask for them, researchers noted.

Although the number of smokers in Denmark has decreased significantly in recent years, the country is still at the high end of EU countries in terms of rates of smoking and smoking-related illnesses and deaths.

In 2010, 24 percent of Danish adults over the age of 18 described themselves as smokers, reports Kræftens Bekæmpelse. Some 20 percent of Danish adults smoke cigarettes every day.