Displaying products at retail is one of the most basic elements of commerce. Product displays allow manufacturers and retailers to show consumers what is available for purchase at stores. Product displays also allow consumers to know when new products are introduced into the market.
Public health advocates have called for a ban on the display of tobacco products at retail. A small number of countries have followed these recommendations and enacted display bans. The stated purpose of these laws is to reduce youth smoking and smoking prevalence in general. In addition, the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has recommended banning retail display of tobacco products.
The effectiveness of display bans in reducing youth smoking or overall smoking prevalence has not been established. In 2006, Health Canada stated that the impact of display bans on public health “remains very speculative.”  In 2007, the Norwegian government stated in its report supporting a display ban, “there is yet no scientific study published that definitely shows the impact that a ban against public display would have on the number of people who smoke.”  In 2008, the U.K. Department of Health noted that “it is not conclusive” whether display bans benefit public health, and stated “there has yet to be a full evaluation of a display ban” on youth smoking.  Nevertheless, the Canadian, Norwegian and U.K. governments adopted display bans.
We are opposed to bans on the retail display of tobacco products. Display bans impede competition, impose significant costs and other burdens on retailers, encourage price competition (and cheaper cigarettes), and foster illicit trade in tobacco products. While we support the objective of preventing youth smoking, there is no evidence from the countries that have implemented display bans that they have reduced youth smoking rates. There are proven measures to prevent youth smoking, such as strictly enforced minimum age laws and educational programs. Display bans are ineffective and unnecessary..
In many countries, product displays are one of the few remaining ways for tobacco companies to compete. A ban would make it virtually impossible to successfully launch new brands or brand extensions, and would give brands (and manufacturers) that are already well established in the market a clear competitive advantage, placing a tremendous and unfair disadvantage on manufacturers seeking to enter the market. The result would be to make pricing the primary means of competition between brands.
More competition on pricing, and thus cheaper cigarettes, is contrary to public health policy and will undermine the goal of reducing youth smoking. Moreover, it is evident that moving tobacco products “under the counter” will make it easier for criminals to infiltrate the legitimate trade channel with contraband and counterfeited packages and harder for enforcement authorities to determine whether and where illicit products are sold.
For retailers, display bans pose additional significant burdens and costs. Having to store and manage tobacco products under the counter means time and effort, angry customers, and, especially for smaller shops, lost sales to larger competitors who can afford to manage the more complex retail environment.
Health Canada A Proposal to Regulate the Display and Promotion of Tobacco and Tobacco-related Products at Retail: Consultation Document, (2006)
Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services, Public Hearing of A Proposal on A Ban Against Visible Display of Tobacco Products at Point of Sale, As Well As Certain Other Changes to the Tobacco Damage Act and the Advertising Regulation at 5, (2007) (Norwegian Consultation)
UK Department of Health consultation on the future of tobacco control, (2008)