Recently, News24 columnist Chris Moerdyk penned a piece entitled, Tobacco regulations just smoke and mirrors, questioning the value of proposed regulations to limit in-store tobacco displays.

In his column, Moerdyk takes issue with proposed regulations that will limit the display of tobacco products in shops. As I understand it, these regulations will apply to any area of the shop where tobacco products are publicly visible, including behind the counter cigarette cases and advertisements at tills, including counter mats where shoppers place their items when paying.

According to the new regulation, only one square meter of publicly visible space would be allocated to tobacco products, and no more than 100 such products may be displayed at any one time.

Government’s motivation for the new regulation is to help prevent young people and non-smokers from taking up the habit, and help current smokers to quit.

There are those, like Moerdyk, who argue that exposure to brand material is not enough to get people to start smoking. However, since the country banned tobacco advertising, smoking rates in South Africa have halved.

Logically, one could expect that even less exposure to tobacco branding will drop smoking figures further – especially because tobacco companies have relied in-store displays as a means of advertising since the formal advertising ban came into effect.

In his column, Moerdyk, who is somewhat of a media guru, says that he fails to see limiting tobacco displays to “one square metre display of 100 cigarettes is going to be any more protective than a 10 square metre display of 1 000 cigarettes.”

Advertising companies may beg to differ. According to Moerdyk’s logic, companies that are paying top dollar for large advertisements are wasting their money as, in his opinion, a 10 square metre display has no greater effect on consumers than a one square metre ad.

Of course it does and research proves it time and again.

Especially considering the fact that cigarette packs are often used as advertising.

Consider this picture of a recent cigarette display. The first time I saw it even I was intrigued. Uncanny how much alike the sweets and the cigarettes look, isn’t it?

Moerdyk also belittles the argument that large, colourful displays might trigger a person who is in the process of quitting smoking to start again.

Moerdyk says: “Well, all I can say is that if government really wants to protect people with no willpower then they need to ban other people from smoking altogether…”

This comment illustrates ignorance about addiction. Some have called tobacco addiction even more difficult to break than addictions to alcohol or drugs because tobacco is available almost everywhere, and people are using it all the time.

People who try and give up smoking aren’t weak-willed if they are lured by displays, they are just struggling to break a very addictive habit. Just as recovering alcoholics won’t hang around in liquor stores for obvious reasons, ex-smokers don’t want to be confronted with their demon every time they go to buy a loaf of bread.

The scientifically-backed truth is that the tobacco advertising ban is working – fewer people are smoking and incidence of lung cancer has fallen. Further bans on displays will work, and even fewer people will take up the habit.

The only losers in this scenario are the tobacco companies. – Health-e News Service.