In just over six weeks, cigarettes will become invisible in stores across Ontario and Quebec, but city vendors say the new law will only cost them money.
On May 31, the final phase of the 2006 Smoke-Free Ontario Act will be to force vendors to dismantle so-called “powerwalls” — the prominent cigarette displays generally positioned behind retail checkouts — but a representative for retailers predicted yesterday that it would be costly and difficult for stores to comply.
Though retailers have had two years’ notice, Chris Wilcox, chair of the Ontario Convenience Store Association, said details of the law were not distributed until last month, leaving stores scrambling.
“It’s going to be a rush. Even for us,” said Wilcox, who is also general manager of 46 Quickie Convenience Stores in Ottawa. “You’re going to see a few places using curtains and bed sheets.”
Wilcox said larger chains such as Quickie will have the resources to make changes on time, but that it will be difficult for smaller businesses.
Walid Norat, the owner of O’Connor Smoke Shop, is concerned about the loss of revenue, but said his store will not lose as much business as others, because he tends to get specific clientele who know his wares, even if they’re not displayed.
“People who come in here tend to know what they’re looking for,” he said.
Roland Comerford, who was celebrating his 60th year of operating Comerford’s Cigar Shop on Bank Street yesterday, will be forced to cover his pipe and cigar displays with frosted glass.
“We’re going to have a catalogue for people to browse, but they have to ask for it and we have to put it back under the counter when they’re done,” he said.
Comerford expects to see a drop in sales, because of the “out of sight, out of mind” effect. Comerford’s store generates more than 50 per cent of revenue from cigarettes and tobacco.
Wilcox doubts that concealing cigarettes in stores will help reduce youth smoking rates, noting powerwall bans in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have not had any effect.
According to Health Canada, in 2004, 22 per cent of people over 15 years old smoked. Last year that was around 25 per cent.