Survey: 70% retailers accepted incentives by tobacco companies to display cigarette packs prominently

(From left) Malaysian Green Lung Association founding president Ho Rhu Yann, Dr Mary Assunta and Dr Mohamad Haniki.

KUALA LUMPUR: A study showed that about 70% of retailers accepted incentives such as cash and shopping vouchers by tobacco companies to display cigarette packs prominently in their stores.

International Islamic University Malaysia's Department of Pharmacy Practice Assoc Prof Dr Mohamad Haniki Nik Mohamed revealed findings that nearly three-quarters of 240 retailers interviewed in Malaysia took part in incentive programmes by tobacco companies.

He said these retailers, which include convenience stores, coffee shops and grocery stores, were found to have been required to prominently display cigarette packs according to a "tobacco power wall" design.

These retailers, he added, were required to arrange the cigarette packs based on a visual guide (planogram) by the tobacco companies and to allocate a dedicated space to feature particular brands.

In return, he added, these retailers were rewarded with cash, shopping and food vouchers, items such as hampers and power banks, and even invitations to social events.

"Shopping vouchers and cash are given based on (whether) they achieve their sales target or their performance," he said at a press conference at the office of the National Cancer Society Malaysia  on Friday (Jan 25).

Some 61% of retail outlets, he added, were also found to be visited and monitored by representatives of tobacco companies on a weekly basis.

What is more worrying, he said, was the fact that more than half of retailers surveyed were located within one kilometre from primary or secondary schools.

"Studies have shown that exposure to cigarette advertising to adolescents would have an impact on them, in terms of initiation or in continuing smoking," he said.

South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance senior policy advisor Dr Mary Assunta Kolandai said countries like Thailand and Singapore have banned the pack display of cigarette brands in shops.

There are currently no specific legal provisions in Malaysia against displaying cigarette packs at points-of-sales, she added, although there were laws against advertising tobacco products.

The Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004 under the Food Act 1983 states that no person shall under any contract or agreement promote a tobacco product in exchange for any sponsorship, gift, prize or reward.

Civil society groups are calling for the government to look into banning the display of cigarette packs and to make it mandatory for retail outlets to obtain a license to sell tobacco products.

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