The regulations do apparently permit retailers to display a price list in plain type, but, as Chris Snowdon reports, initially this does not seem to have been properly understood, with some staff taking the line that they cannot confirm either the existence of a particular product, or its price, until the customer actually makes a purchase, which is plainly ridiculous and in violation of consumer protection law. Clearly one result of this will be to make getting information about the price and availability of tobacco products much more difficult. Ironically, for the first time the bootlegger will have an advantage over the legitimate retailer in the information he can provide. There’s a briefing paper about the regulations here.
Of course nothing similar can ever happen to alcohol sales. Well, maybe not in the next few years, but they’re already talking about plain packaging for alcohol even before it’s been brought in for tobacco. The exact order of events isn’t necessarily the same, but it becomes clearer with every passing week that tobacco control is being actively used and promoted as a template for alcohol control. And, once this has come in, the chances of introducing and developing a new brand are precisely zero – sellers will be entirely dependent on customers’ folk memory. So bye-bye beer tickers, bye-bye seasonal beers, and bye-bye to most microbreweries.
There is also an existing example of this in the Swedish state monopoly alcohol retailer Systembolaget. As Wikipedia explains, many of their outlets have now moved over the a self-service system, but in the past they were all Argos-style stores where you ordered your drinks from a catalogue and the assistant brought them to you from a storeroom round the back. This is shown in the illustration, although there are still a few bottles on display. Likewise, in a bar or restaurant you would order from a little printed sheet (or from memory) and the bar staff would fetch your drink, in a plain, unbranded glass, from a screened-off area.
Can’t happen here? Don’t be too sure...