Putting Cigarettes Out of Sight and Out of Mind

Reducing the availability of cigarettes could help smokers quit, and even retailers aren't against the idea.

Quitting smoking is hard. It’s even harder when you can pick up a pack to enjoy while drinking a beer at the local bar or buying petrol at a service station.

Limiting the sale of cigarettes and the related signage, particularly at licensed premises, might help smokers resist the urge to light up and prevent some of the 46,335 hospitalisations and 5,460 deaths linked to smoking every year in New South Wales.

 “The most problematic places where cigarettes are sold are pubs and clubs, because people are least able to resist the temptation to smoke when they are drinking alcohol,” says Western Sydney University professor Suzan Burton.

“We know that the widespread availability of cigarettes promotes smoking, and in particular it provides temptation to occasional smokers and people who are trying to quit.”

A Western Sydney University research team led by Burton collaborated with Cancer Council NSW to explore the nature and effect of that temptation, and how it might be curbed to make quitting easier. 

Need to know

  • Even plain cigarette sales signage encourages smoking 
  • Cigarette sales are not vital to the survival of small businesses
  • Legislation to reduce tobacco retailers could decrease temptation for would-be quitters

The team found that despite cigarettes being sold in plain packaging and from closed cabinets in shops, smokers are still heavily influenced by tobacco-related signage. “As somebody said to us in our research, the cigarette price list that you see in service stations and convenience stores is like a ‘menu’, tempting people to buy,” she says.

The tobacco industry has long argued that cigarette sales are important for the profitability of many small businesses, but Burton’s research shows the opposite is true.

“We interviewed more than a thousand alcohol-licensed premises and found nearly 40 per cent don’t sell cigarettes; many who do sell them say cigarette sales aren’t important and they wouldn’t care if they stopped selling them.”

She said her research found that a significant number of licensed premises – especially pubs and clubs – do not oppose a ban on the sale of cigarettes in licensed premises. 

“Despite what the tobacco industry says, policy changes that limit the number of cigarette retailers may even be welcomed by many who currently sell them.”

Burton’s research has led to the establishment of a state government taskforce on tobacco retailing and is informing modelling of policies to minimise the harm done by smoking. 

Meet the Academic | Professor Suzan Burton

Suzan Burton is a Professor of Marketing at Western Sydney University. Her research is focused on consumer choice, and in particular on how marketing strategies (especially distribution of tobacco) influence consumers to make dysfunctional choices. Her research has been recognised by funding from the Australian Research Council and from Cancer Councils in NSW, Western Australia and from the Heart Foundation (NSW). She has also been named as ANZMAC Distinguished Marketing Educator of the Year. She has supervised ten doctoral students to completion.


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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.