Some Supermarkets Are Active Players in Cigarette Market

March 19, 1998

(Supermarket cigarettes: the brands that dare not speak their name)

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Supermarkets in the UK are trying to convey a healthy image, but some are covertly profiting from cigarettes with little regard for the health of their customers, says Jarvis in a paper published in this week's BMJ. Few people have any idea that supermarket 'own-brand' cigarettes account for over half the number of brands sold in the UK and hold over seven per cent market share.....a fact that the supermarkets would like to remain obscured, says Jarvis.

His study, funded by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), uncovers the fact that cigarette own brands sold by some supermarkets sell at a substantial discount (they are around 20 per cent cheaper than the brand leaders). Jarvis suggests that when/if tobacco advertising is banned, the mainstream brands will lose their competitive advantage and the market is likely to become more price sensitive, which could lead to these supermarkets expanding their market share. As the major food chains promote themselves as 'purveyors of fresh, healthy food', their heavy involvement with the tobacco trade sits uneasily with this image, says the author.

The supermarkets arrange for the manufacture of own-label cigarettes and, with the solitary exception of Asda among the major supermarkets, they are sold under a different name. This suggests that these retailers wish to profit to the maximum from the tobacco trade while avoiding both liability for harm to their customers' health (in light of the recent spate of tobacco litigation) and any explicit association of their names with the trade.

Moreover, Jarvis highlights that people who smoke supermarket own-brand cigarettes tend to be older and mainly women, who have manual occupations, live in rented accommodation and are heavier, more dependent smokers. This group has an elevated risk of smoking related diseases and thus, says Jarvis, the 'healthy' supermarkets are exploiting groups who smoke the most, can least afford to smoke, suffer most from smoking and most need to give up.

Contact: Christine Suggars, Press Office, ICRF, 61 Lincolns Inn Fields, London t: 0171 269 3614
f: 0171 269 3262


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