General Views

Future Of Tobacco Retailing

As generic tobacco packaging is introduced in Australia, one can’t help but wonder if generic packaging will come sometime soon to Canada. Both countries are known for their desire to be at the forefront of tobacco control policies in the world to reduce tobacco consumption.

Generic packaging creates several problems. Without referencing a legal discussion of infringement on freedom of commercial speech, the problem with generic tobacco is that with over 130 possible consumer offerings, it will be very difficult to pick the right package that the consumer is asking for.

Let me explain, the convenience store industry is known for high turnover drawing from a relatively low skilled workforce, some of which are part-time students. Turnover rates are high as 30% with cstore operators. Given that approximately 20% of the Canadian adult population are tobacco users, it is safe to assume that only 1 out of 5 people are familiar with tobacco products. The other 4 that might work in convenience industry, have difficulty in the best of times finding tobacco products behind flaps.

Having the advantage of the consumer being able to point to “that one” will be removed when and if generic packaging ever comes to Canada. The solution very well might be the return of cigarette vending machines. When tobacco consumers swipe their drivers licenses, the vending machine will light up and shows brands that it carries (only for a few seconds). This will put the onus on the consumer to read the fine print of their brand name (that comes with generic packaging) and leave the accuracy of choice purely in the hands of the tobacco consumer. While this is by far, the least desirable outcome, it might be a real one given the government’s position of not listening to tobacco retailers when flaps were introduced. What are your thoughts?