Will you be smoking BAT, JTI, Philip Morris or “some brand I can’t see as it’s under the counter” cigarettes?

Smoking is an evocative subject and can raise some strong emotions for both the pro and anti smoking brigade.

Any government faces a bit of a tricky situation when it comes to smoking.

On the one hand the VAT and duty raised by selling cigarettes helps the government coffers whilst on the other hand there is an increased burden on the health services as a result of smoking related illnesses.

In the UK for example, the 21% of the population that smoke contribute in excess of £10 billion in terms of VAT and duty whilst there are an estimated 80,000 smoking related deaths per year in the UK.

It was national No Smoking Day last week and the government took the opportunity to announce that cigarettes will soon have to be kept out of sight in shops in England. The argument is that when cigarettes are on display at shop counters they tempt certain people to make impulse purchases of cigarettes.

From April 2012 large shops and supermarkets will have to keep cigarettes out of the public eye and store them hidden “under the counter”. Smaller shops will need to do the same in 2015.

It was also announced that a consultation into whether cigarettes should only be sold in plain wrappers without any distinguishing colours, logos or designs will take place shortly.

If a “plain wrapper rule” was introduced this would follow Australia where it has been announced that from next year cigarettes can only be sold in plain wrappers.

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of smoking, this raises an interesting challenge for the tobacco companies as to how they deal with the branding and promotion.

As we speak, these companies are no doubt focusing on techniques for enhancing promotion before the point of sale. The key will be changing the promotion so that people make the purchase decision before they enter the shop rather than rely on impulse purchases.

With cigarette advertising banned in England expect to see these companies developing their brand loyalty via social media such as facebook and twitter as well as viral marketing.

If you’re a smoker who really feels that you need to be tempted or reminded to buy at the counter then one option is to move to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland as although these are part of the UK they have separate smoking rules to those found in England and the under the counter rule will not be introduced.

The ExP Group