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Frustration over cigarette regulations

Retailers and wholesalers yesterday expressed their frustration at newly implemented cigarette regulations, complaining of a lack of consultation.

Along with banning the sale of flavoured tobacco products and introducing new rules about how tobacco products can be displayed, the rules require new warning labels on cigarette packages.

During a meeting organised by the Chamber of Commerce, more than 30 representatives from wholesalers and retailers voiced their frustrations with the new rules, with a representative from Pitt & Co saying that they have five employees working eight-hour shifts placing warning labels on cigarette packages imported before the regulations came into effect on Monday.

The retailers questioned David Kendell, the Director of Health, about the lack of consultation or a grandfather clause for products already imported to the island, saying that the Bermuda Government was preventing the sale of products after collecting duty on their importation.

The banning of designations such as “light” or “mild” have meant that retailers have to plaster as many as six stickers over single packs of cigarettes.

And the need to place the stickers on each package of cigarettes introduced a challenge to any retailer attempting to sell cartons of cigarettes as the cartons would have to be opened, stickers applied to the packages, and the carton resealed.

“They just fall apart,” one retailer said.

Another questioned why the warning labels were required but single cigarettes — which contain no warning labels — could still be sold.

Mr Kendell told the group that the World Health Organisation does not recommend consultation on the issue of tobacco sales, but told attendees that he would seek consultation on similar health matters regarding sugar or alcohol.

And asked about a phased approach to the regulations, he said: “In hindsight that probably would have been a lot simpler to do.”

However he said that the legislation passed in the House of Assembly set an implementation date of July 31, and the department was working with that. He said the department intends to work with the wholesalers and retailers as they adopt the new rules.

“We are not going to hit everybody over the head with a stick, but work with you,” he said.

While he said the ban on flavoured tobacco products was intended to make tobacco less attractive to young people, one retailer asked why that ban extended to alcohol-based flavours like rum. Another questioned if mint cigarettes would be allowed as the legislation does permit menthol-flavoured products.

Rules regarding display cases were also heavily discussed, with attendees hearing that tobacco products cannot be displayed within 3m of candy, toys or other products attractive to children. Mr Kendell explained that given the size limitations of most retailers, the easiest solution would be to cover any tobacco displays with a curtain so the products are not visible.

However, one retailer said they had already had customers walk in, see the covered display and leave believing that cigarettes were no longer for sale. For Michael Heslop, proprietor of the Smoke Shop, the stickers are laborious and costly. Speaking before the meeting yesterday, he said: “We’re ordering in stickers by the thousands — they could at least allow the stickers to be duty-free. It’s also very time-consuming.”

Even with seven months passing since the legislation came into effect, Mr Heslop estimated he would have to toss out $18,000 in merchandise.

“All of it was legally imported; I paid a tax on it — and now I’m throwing it away.”

Long an opponent of the restriction, Mr Heslop maintained that in its entirety, including the e-cigarette limits, the Act made Bermuda’s tobacco rules the strictest in the world.

“If the health department can find one place stricter, can they let me know?”

However, Mr Heslop was ready to concede defeat.

“It’s too late; it’s gone through. We lost the chance to fight it.”