Corner shops see cigarette sales fall by half over three years

The drop suggests small stores are becoming less reliant on tobacco sales.

Cigarette sales in UK corner shops fall by half over three years, University of Edinburgh research shows iStock

Sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products from UK convenience stores fell by almost half in three years, new research from a Scottish university has revealed.

A team led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh analysed sales data from almost 1,400 convenience stores in Scotland, England and Wales and compared transactions that took place during typical weeks in March, June, September and December 2016 with those from the same periods in 2019.

Their findings show sales of tobacco products dropped 47% over the three years. 

In 2016, 11% of transactions involved only tobacco, but this fell to 6% in 2019.

The proportion of sales containing a mix of tobacco products and other items also declined, falling from 14% to 9%.

While average weekly sales in convenience stores fell by 16% between 2016 and 2019, sales of tobacco products fell more steeply than any other item.

The drop suggests corner shops and other small stores are becoming less reliant on tobacco sales than they were in the past, researchers say.

Despite the fall in tobacco products, sales of some products – including e-cigarettes, alcopops and spirits – increased during the three-year period.

As well as tobacco products, the team also assessed sales of other items people frequently buy from convenience stores, including milk, bread, newspapers and alcohol.

The next biggest decline was a 25% fall in newspapers and magazines sales.

Despite tobacco products increasing significantly in price between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of total weekly store turnover that came from these sales fell by 8% – from 47% to 39%.

Retailers’ declining reliance on tobacco sales was seen across all areas of the UK, the team says.

Tobacco product sales, and their contribution towards weekly turnover, were higher in shops in urban, more economically deprived areas compared with rural stores and those in affluent areas. However, these stores saw the greatest reductions over time, narrowing the differences between areas.

Professor Jamie Pearce from the university’s School of GeoSciences said: “The tobacco industry has long presented tobacco products as essential to the survival of convenience stores across the country. 

“Our new research shows that tobacco is decreasingly important to the business model of smaller retailers and undermines the arguments made by the tobacco industry. 

“The findings emphasise the need to reduce the local availability of tobacco products in order to meet government targets for eliminating smoking over the next decade.”

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