Corner shop tobacco sales halved in three years

Sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products from UK convenience stores fell by almost half in three years, research shows.

Image of person stubbing out a cigarette

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

A team led by Edinburgh researchers  analysed sales data from almost 1400 convenience stores in England, Scotland and Wales. They compared transactions that took place during typical weeks in March, June, September and December 2016 with those from the same periods in 2019.

Tobacco sales

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.

Their findings show sales of tobacco products dropped 47 per cent over the three years. In 2016, 11 per cent of transactions involved only tobacco, but this fell to 6 per cent in 2019.

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

Common items

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

The next biggest decline was a 25 per cent fall in newspapers and magazines sales. In contrast, sales of some products – including e-cigarettes, alcopops and spirits – increased during the three-year period.

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 per cent – from 47 per cent to 39 per cent.

Nationwide decline

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.

Data used in the study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, was provided by The Retail Data Partnership. An open access version of the paper is available here:

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.

Professor Jamie PearceSchool of GeoSciences

The research team included members of SPECTRUM, a UK Prevention Research Partnership consortium, alongside researchers from the University of Oklahoma, US. The work was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Department of Health and Social Care, the Scottish Government and leading health research charities.

Related links

Journal paper

School of GeoSciences

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