Rural Shops Alliance

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The Rural Shops Alliance (RSA) is a national trade association working to support the owners of 8,000 independent rural shops in the United Kingdom.1
Both Imperial Tobacco and BAT are corporate partners to the RSA. They are two of the few large corporations partnering – alcoholic drinks producer Diageo another one – which indicates they are two of the organisation’s key funders.2
British American Tobacco United Kingdom “is proud to support the Rural Shops Alliance” it says on the Alliance website3:

As a responsible tobacco company, we face a wide range of issues that affect not only our own operations, but also that of our suppliers and retailers. We support balanced and evidence based regulation of our industry however we also believe that dis-proportionate regulation can have unwelcome and unexpected consequences for both consumers and Governments.

Against Plain Packaging

Imperial Says ‘No Evidence’ Plain Packaging Works

In late 2011, the RSA’s Rural Retailer Magazine included an interview with Colin Wragg, a senior Corporate and Legal Affairs manager from Imperial Tobacco who repeated many of the traditional tobacco industry arguments against plain packaging, including arguing that that the measure would increase illicit tobacco trade and that there was no evidence it worked. 4

BAT Funded Report Against Plain Packaging

In 2011, the Public Health Research Consortium published the research carried out by Associate Professor Owen Carter, a systematic review, measuring the effect of cigarette plain packaging on transaction times in small shops selling cigarettes and errors made in selecting the right package lacking brand logos.5 The research was done in an experimental simulation, but according to the RSA and BAT “the situation was unrepresentative of the in-store environment of a typical small retailer.” The RSA argued that “a more robust, independent study was needed to provide its members with a clearer understanding of the likely impact of the introduction of standardised packaging on their businesses.”6

The subsequent research, however, was undertaken by Visuality, a brand consultancy recommended to the RSA by BAT. The tobacco company also funded the research. The terms of reference in the end report explain the relations: ‘The RSA has been funded by British American Tobacco (BAT) to carry out this work and BAT recommended Visuality as having appropriate skills to undertake the project’.6 The study built on similar research in Australia in 2010, commissioned by the Alliance of Australian Retailers, a tobacco industry front group, set up to oppose the Government’s introduction of plain packaging in Australia, and operated by the Melbourne based public relations firm The Civic Group. The report disclosed that “the Alliance is supported by British American Tobacco Australia Limited, Philip Morris Limited and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited.” This research was carried out by Deloitte, one of the largest consultancy agencies in the world 7

The RSA subsequently lobbied the Department of Health over the survey’s findings.8

Submission to Chantler Review

In 2014, the RSA sent a letter to the UK Government’s Independent Review into Plain Packaging undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler. The submission, written by the Alliance’s Chief Executive, Kenneth Parsons, repeated tobacco industry arguments against plain packaging. Parsons wrote:

We do not believe that the available evidence suggests that standardised packaging would be a significant influence on young people’s decision to start smoking. The effect on public health of this measure is likely to be very small and could actually be negative. 9

Against Point of Sale Display Ban

Display Ban is ‘Counter-productive’

The RSA criticised the implementation of the Point of Sale Ban arguing that: “unfortunately the legislation brought in by the last government to ban tobacco displays was not soundly based on evidence and could even be counter-productive.” The Alliance also used the argument that further regulation would increase illicit tobacco; the flyer summarising their arguments was headed “Tobacco – Supplied By A Legitimate Retailer Or From A Car Boot In Pub Car Park?”10

Let’s “Take Advantage” of Exemption

In an article on the Point of Sale Display ban in the RSA’s magazine in Spring 2012, it argued lobbying by the RSA “was an important factor” in getting a three year exemption to implementation of the ban until 2015 for small shops. The article then said that rural shops should exploit this as much as possible:

In the meantime, small retailers should take advantage of the opportunity in the ways other commentators have been suggesting. Remember that supermarket tobacco buyers are more likely to be women and tend to buy more cigarettes per transaction. 11

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  1. Rural Shops Alliance, Who we are, Website, accessed June 2013
  2. Rural Shops Alliance, Partners, website, accessed June 2103
  3. RSA, British American Tobacco United Kingdom “is proud to support the Rural Shops Alliance”, About us, accessed September 2013.
  4. Rural Shops Alliance, Developments in the Tobacco Industry, Rural Retailer Magazine, Winter 2011/12
  5. Owen B J Carter, OBJ. Mills, BW. Phan, T. Bremner, JR. (2011) ‘Measuring the effect of cigarette plain packaging on transaction times and selection errors in a simulation experiment’ Tobacco Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050087
  6. abRSA & Visuality, The Effects of Standardised Tobacco Packaging on Retail Service in the UK, September 2012, accessed May 2014
  7. Deloitte, Potential impact on retailers from the introduction of plain tobacco packaging, Alliance of Australian Retailers, Sydney, 2011, accessed September 2013.
  8. Rural Shops Alliance, RSA Research leads the way – How Standardised Tobacco Packs Would Affect Retailers, Rural Retailer Magazine, Autumn 2012
  9. Kenneth Parsons, Independent Review into Standardised Packaging Of Tobacco Response From The Rural Shops Alliance, undated
  10. Rural Shops Alliance, Tobacco – Supplied By A Legitimate Retailer Or From A Car Boot In Pub Car Park?, undated, accessed June 2013
  11. Rural Shops Alliance, Tobacco: The Impact of Going Dark, Rural Retailer Magazine, Spring 2012, p21