British Retail Consortium

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The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is a trade association for the retail industry in the UK, which refers to itself as the “authoritative voice of retail”.1 With an office just behind Parliament Square in London, at 21 Dartmouth Street, the BRC is ideally situated to lobby the government. 2

Opposed to Tobacco Regulation

When considering regulation of tobacco products and smoking, the BRC focusses on the efforts and costs that retailers may incur. In a 2013 statement, the Consortium said that its members are:

“supportive of measures designed to reduce the prevalence of smoking amongst young people that are based on evidence and will be effective …. We would also have preferred to see further legislation aligning it with alcohol, for example making it an offence to attempt to buy tobacco or buying it on behalf of an underage person. We felt that would put tobacco on the same basis as alcohol.”3

The BRC runs a “cigarette issues working group”, though its remit and membership is unknown.4

Against the Point of Sale Display Ban

In 2011, the Consortium called the proposed tobacco display ban an “unnecessary burden” and said that enforcing the ban when plain packaging was still being considered “risks pointless duplication”.1

Against Plain Packaging

Plain Packaging “Would Have Been a More Comprehensive Approach” than the Display Ban

When the UK Government announced its first consultation on plain packaging in early 2012, the BRC stated it did not make sense to introduce plain packaging just after the costs and efforts its members had expended complying with the display ban:

“We were particularly disappointed that the Government chose to consult on plain packaging just after the ban was introduced. We believed that would have been a more comprehensive approach, standardising packaging both in stores and in the house where they could influence children. The plain packaging approach would have avoided the millions of pounds retailers have spent complying with the display ban.”3

Andrew Opie, BRC’s Director of Food & Sustainability, was particularly disturbed by the fact that the consultation was announced a week after the display ban had come in to force for all larger shops in England, on the 6 April 2012, stating “So much for joined up government and minimising burdens on business. Having just forced large retailers to spend almost £16 million refitting stores to hide tobacco products the Government is now confirming it’s considering legislation on packaging.”
Opie called the decision “crazy and completely against the Government’s own better regulation principles. If a decision is taken to go ahead with plain packaging, concealing products from view in shops becomes irrelevant.” Opie also said that “plain packaging could make it harder to serve customers and to tackle counterfeit products but it would at least be logical.” 5
In its submission to the UK Government’s first consultation on plain packaging, British American Tobacco (BAT) used the ‘crazy’ quote to underline the argument of “burdensome over-regulation”.6
Opie’s quotes were also widely cited on social media. For example, the ‘Say No to plain packs!’ campaign – set up by the industry’s front group Forest– quoted him under the heading “What retailers say”:

“Having just forced large retailers to spend almost £16m refitting stores to hide tobacco products the government is now confirming it’s considering legislation on packaging – that’s crazy. (Andrew Opie, Food Director, British Retail Consortium, 13 April 2012.)”

Similarly, on 7 March 2012 pro-smoking blogger Christopher Snowdon tweeted:

“British Retail Consortium says refitting for tobacco display ban costs average of £2,285 – 2000% more than ASH claimed.”

Opposed to Tobacco Regulation in Scotland

In 2007, the Scottish Retail Consortium (the BRC’s Scottish branch) submitted a response to the Government’s draft regulation on smoking.7
A year later, in May 2008, when the Scottish Government published its Smoking Prevention Action Plan, which called for licenses for premises selling tobacco and a Point of Sale display ban, the BRC’s Scottish branch said the former would amount to “a mass of costly and pointless bureaucracy” and said that there was “no evidence” to support a tobacco display ban.8
The Scottish Parliament backed the measures in January 2010 and it was granted Royal Assent two months later. However, its implementation was delayed by legal action taken by Imperial, which argued that there was no credible evidence that display bans have cut tobacco consumption, and used the arguments of the BRC to defend the appeal against the regulation in 2012: “They go against the principle of adult choice, they are anti-competitive and they place an unnecessary cost burden on retailers – £16m was spent by large retailers in England refitting stores, according to the British Retail Consortium.”9

BRC identified by Philip Morris International as an ‘Influencer’

In mid-2013, documents authored by PMI were leaked, revealing that the company planned a multi-faceted campaign to oppose the British government’s plans to introduce plain packaging. 1011
In the leaked documents, PMI identified all those whom it considered to be major players in the UK legislative decision-making process.
PMI presented a model centred around UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the “decision maker”. Cameron, at the epicentre, was 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 was the BRC.
For more information see:

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

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  1. abBritish Retail Consortium, Tobacco display ban unnecessary burden, 9 March 2011, accessed 9 June 2011
  2. Who is Lobbying? The British Retail Consortium, no date, accessed May2014
  3. abBritish Retail Consortium, Tobacco Policy & Issues: Food Tobacco, accessed August 2013
  4. British Retail Consortium, Retail Membership Information, accessed 14 June 2011
  5. BRC, Government approach to tobacco regulation , press release, 13 April 2012, accessed May 2014
  6. BAT, Standardised Packaging Consultation, Response of British American Tobacco UK Ltd, 8 August 2012, p.53, accessed August 2013
  7. Scottish Retail Consortium, Response to:1. Consultation on the Draft Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 (Variation of Age Limit for Sale of Tobacco Purchase and Consequential Modifications) Order 2007; 2. Consultation on the Smoking Prevention Working Group Report: Towards a Future Without Tobacco, 3 March 2007, accessed May 2014
  8. British Retail Consortium, Scottish smoking ban will do little but pile on costs, 21 May 2008, accessed 14 June 2011
  9. BBC news, Supreme Court date for Imperial Tobacco challenge to cigarette display ban, 8 September 2012, accessed May 2014
  10. Philip Morris International, UK Corporate Affairs Update February 2012, Leaked in 2013
  11. Philip Morris International, UK Corporate Affairs Update March 2012, Leaked in 2013