Association of Convenience Stores
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) is an organisation representing 33,500 local shops. In their own words:
- “ACS’ core purpose is to lobby Government on the issues that make a difference to local shops. We represent the interests of retailers on a range of issues, including business rates, energy, regulation, planning, alcohol and many more.”
Links to the Tobacco Industry
As premier club members, tobacco companies “join [the ACS] as a signal of their support for the industry and a number of exclusive events. Premier Club brings extensive benefits including, premium networking opportunities and insight into the convenience sector at all levels”.
In February 2012, ACS Chief Executive James Lowman wrote to the Tobacco Control Policy Manager at the UK Department of Health regarding ACS’ commercial relationship with tobacco manufacturers. He revealed that as Premier Club members, BAT, JTI, Imperial Tobacco, PMI and Reetmeister Cigars each paid £22,860 in membership fees to the ACS in 2012. 
Against Plain Packaging
On 16 April 2012, when the UK Department of Health launched a consultation on the plain packaging of tobacco products, ACS CEO Lowman said in a press release: “We welcome the opportunity of this consultation to set out the reasons why plain packs will be a major burden to local shops across the UK.”
- “If every tobacco product looks the same it will be much harder for retailers and their staff to locate product on the shelf. This will make serving customers slower and make stock management harder...We also fear that consumers that are used to buying certain brands will react against plain packs and seek them out from the illegal trade. The result would be more consumers placed at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals that run the black market and further loss of trade for legitimate retailers.
- "Finally we will be asking Ministers to recognize that it would be wrong to impose such a measure at a time when the tobacco display ban is still to be fully implemented. Imposing a whole new burden on business when an existing one is still yet to be implemented is far from the business friendly regulation that Government have repeatedly promised."
In August 2012, the ACS submitted a response to the UK consultation on the plain packaging of tobacco products.
The ACS argued that plain packaging would lead to operational implications for retailers, including impact on service times, loss of retail margin and the potential to drive consumers away from the legitimate UK market into the illicit trade market (see Image). These arguments echo tobacco industry arguments against plain packaging.
In its submissions to the consultation, all the evidence presented by the big four tobacco companies to support the argument that the proposed legislation would lead to an increase in transaction times was funded by the tobacco industry. See Plain Packaging Opposition in the UK: 2012 Consultation for more information on which organisations were paid to conduct this research.
The ACS made no fewer than nine recommendations to the UK Government and the Department of Health, stating that it:
- 1. should adhere to the principles of better regulation when deciding on regulation so that unnecessary burden is not placed upon businesses;
- 2. should wait for an evaluation of plain packaging in Australia, the first country in the world to introduce this legislation;
- 3. should conduct a “detailed and reliable analysis of smokers’ response” to plain packaging;
- 4. should conduct a “consumer study on the likely impact of this policy on counterfeit tobacco products and cross-border sales”;
- 5. should give careful consideration to the impact plain packaging could have on making illicit trade more attractive, especially to young people and those in deprived communities;
- 6. should allow time to assess the efficacy of recently introduced tobacco control interventions before introducing further burdens on business;
- 7. should conduct a full study of the efficacy of all existing tobacco control measures before introducing others;
- 8. should publish findings of on-going research in a timely manner to allow further consultation with stakeholders;
- 9. should commission research into the business impact of plain packaging.
The July 2013 announcement that the government would not be introducing plain packaging until the impact of the Australian legislation could be measured was received well by Lowman:
PMI identifies the ACS as an ‘influencer’
In mid-2013, new leaked documents authored by PMI in early 2012 revealed that the company planned a multi-faceted campaign to oppose the British government’s plans to introduce plain packaging. 
In the leaked presentations, PMI identified all those whom it considered to be major players in the UK legislative decision-making process. PMI named "key committees" such as the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight Unit, the Regulatory Policy Committee and the Government’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) Reducing Regulation Committee (p15) which, among other things, strives to reduce the burden of regulation in accordance with the principles of Better Regulation.
PMI also detailed a model centred around UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the "decision maker" (see Image). Cameron, depicted at the epicentre, is surrounded by nine "formal/informal advisors" who in turn were surrounded by a large number of "influencers" including MPs, Lords, Government departments and a series of non-governmental organisations, charities and lobby groups (see Image). Included amongst the lobby groups identified by PMI as influencers was the ACS.
For more information, see:
BAT quotes ACS
In addition to submitting its own response to the plain packaging consultation, the ACS was also cited by BAT in its submission to the UK plain packaging consultation in August 2012. In this submission, BAT did not disclose that it paid membership fees to the ACS.
On page 51 of their submission, BAT refers to the Association of Convenience Stores as having said:
“We also fear that consumers that are used to buying certain brands will react against plain packs and seek them out from the illegal trade. The result would be more consumers placed at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals that run the black market and further loss of trade for legitimate retailers.”
ACS Vocal Against Plain Packaging in Second UK Consultation
On 26 June 2014 the UK Government announced the next stage in the consideration of plain packaging regulation when it published its second consultation on plain packaging. Later that day, James Lowman, Chief Executive of the ACS, was quoted in the Retail Gazette speaking out against plain packaging, claiming it will harm convenience stores. Lowman stated, "Ministers have consistently failed to accept the evidence about how disruptive and burdensome recent tobacco control measures have been for the tens of thousands of retailers that have to actually implement them".
This serves as another example of the ACS representing themselves as an independent organisation communicating on behalf of the UK’s retailers without disclosing their links to the tobacco industry.
- Plain Packaging in the UK
- Third Party Techniques
- Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging
- Countering Industry Arguments against Plain Packaging
- Association of Convenience Stores, About ACS, accessed Sept 2014
- ACS, Premier Club, accessed July 2016, WebCite Archive
- ACS, Consultation on Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products: Response of the Association of Convenience Stores, 2012
- ACS, Department of Health Launches Plain Packaging Consultation, 16 April 2012, accessed October 2013
- ACS, Government decides not to introduce plain packaging for tobacco, 12 July 2013, accessed October 2013
- R. Mannering, Government postpones tobacco plain packaging plans, 12 July 2013, accessed October 2013
- Philip Morris International, UK Corporate Affairs Update February 2012, Leaked in 2013
- Philip Morris International, UK Corporate Affairs Update March 2012, Leaked in 2013
- BAT, UK standardised packaging consultation: Response of British American Tobacco UK Limited, 8 August 2012
- ACS2014, Plain Cigarette Packaging Will Hurt Convenience Stores, Claims ACS, 26 June 2014, accessed June 2014