Buying Cigarettes
I came - I saw - I bought

Retailers may face further difficulties with cigarette stocks

As retailers struggle with stocks of 'illegal' cigarette packets without pictorial warnings, they may face further difficulties come November, when a new EU regulation on "fire-safer" cigarettes comes into force.

According to a letter sent to retailers by British American Tobacco Malta Ltd, all cigarettes sold to consumers as from 17 November "must comply with Lower Ignition Propensity (LIP) government legislation".

The most common "fire-safer" technology used by cigarette manufacturers is to wrap cigarettes with two or three thin bands of thickened paper that act as 'speed bumps' to slow down a burning cigarette. If a cigarette is left unattended, the burning tobacco will soon hit one of these speed bumps and self-extinguish. "Fire-safer" cigarettes meet an established cigarette fire safety performance standard.

US research shows that cigarettes are the leading cause of home fire fatalities. Cigarette fires have been the top cause of US fire fatalities for decades, killing tens of thousands of people in the past 30 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a research group that provides data for state and federal fire codes.

Deaths have declined with falling smoking rates, but cigarette fires still kill 700 to 900 people a year (NFPA). The figures for the European Union tell a similar story. Data from 14 member states (with Iceland and Norway), from 2005 to 2007, shows that cigarette-related fires caused some 11,000 fires every year, with 520 deaths and 1,600 injuries.

On Thursday, the Chamber of SMEs (GRTU) and three importers and distributors of tobacco products filed judicial protests against the authorities, saying that there is a lot of 'old' stock of cigarette packets without pictorial warnings on the market and legal action is being taken against retailers who are found to be selling such packets of cigarettes.

The three importers, Interbrands Ltd, N.M. Arrigo Ltd and Charles Grech & Co. Ltd, are insisting that every packet of cigarettes they have imported or placed on the market from 27 April onwards has been compliant with the legal notice that was published in October 2009. Indeed, there was no legal requirement for cigarette packets to carry pictorial warnings prior to 27 April this year.

But there is still a lot of 'old' stock of cigarette packets without the pictorial warnings in retail outlets such as grocers, bars and stationers.

Philip Fenech of the GRTU said: "We don't know the exact number of these cigarette packets, but the retailers that still have old stock have more than ?200 to ?250 worth of cigarettes. The fact of the matter is that nobody determines market forces; certain brands are slow moving, while different retail outlets sell more cigarettes at different times of the year.

"Through no fault of their own, retailers still have a significant number of cigarette packets without pictorial warnings, on which duty has been paid."

The law came into force on 27 April, but there was a 'grace period' up to 22 June, and enforcement started after that date. The GRTU complained that inspectors have been doing spot checks in retail outlets, sealing cigarette packets that are not compliant and taking legal action against retailers, and this is naturally having a negative impact on the working capital of every establishment.

But the Environmental Health Directorate said it is evident that it had given traders ample time to regulate themselves, it had issued several press releases in this respect and had consulted with the industry.

The letter from British American Tobacco (BAT) Malta Ltd, which is dated 1 September, came as a surprise to retailers, who are bracing themselves for another problem with cigarette stocks as new regulations come into force.

According to BAT Malta Ltd, "there will be identification marking on the outers and cases and a tear-off strip on the packs and outers to help you identify compliant BAT products during the transition period of Lower Ignition Propensity (LIP)".

BAT Malta said it was to start supplying LIP-compliant cigarettes on 1 September.

But retailers said these new cigarette stocks are not yet on the market. If importers take another month or so to provide new stocks, retailers will have just one month to sell existing stocks.

The same thing seems to have happened with pictorial warnings. The three importers that filed a judicial protest said that every packet of cigarettes they imported or placed on the market from 27 April onwards had been compliant with the legal notice that was published in October 2009, but retailers who spoke to this newspaper said certain brands of cigarettes available had no pictorial warnings.

Retailers said that because the importers still had a lot of 'old' stock to sell, about 12 to 15 out of 30 brands of cigarettes carried no pictorial warnings on 22 June, when it became illegal to sell cigarette packets without pictorial warnings.

Because certain brands of cigarettes (including those imported by the companies who filed a judicial protest) were not compliant with the legal notice, retailers had no choice but to buy 'old' stock, which they are still trying to sell.

Published: Sunday, September 04, 2011

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