Before too long, it is likely that retailers in the UK will be required to keep all tobacco products out of public view. Now, as a non-smoker, this does not concern me directly (although it certainly does indirectly), but it raises the question of exactly how people are supposed to establish what brands are on offer, and at what prices? Presumably they’ll be allowed to display a price list in a prescribed format, otherwise customers will be placed in a ridiculous position of trying to find out what’s available by a process of elimination.
It’s an interesting thought experiment to speculate on what effect this would have if applied to alcoholic drinks in pubs and off-licences. Gone would be the days of looking along a row of pumpclips or bottles on a shelf to see if there’s anything different you fancy. You would have to peruse a dry price list and then ask for something by name. The barperson would not even be able to answer the question “have you got anything interesting on today?” Inevitably, people would tend to ask for something they had bought there before or, if in an unfamiliar pub, something they’d heard of elsewhere, so the familiar would win out over the new.
And the role of promotion couldn’t be taken on by private citizens either. I’d probably be breaking the law now if I started going on here what a good smoke Benson & Hedges were, and how they were available for £5.79 for 20 at Faroukh’s Newsagents, even if it was purely a personal opinion and I received no payment for it, so I wouldn’t be able to sing the praises of Taylor’s Landlord either or tell people they could get it at the Jolly Plover. Which would also make the activities of CAMRA well-nigh impossible and the Good Beer Guide a banned volume.
Now, I'm not saying this is going to happen in the next ten years, or indeed ever. But it is by no means axiomatic, as many in the beer world seem to think, that restrictions on the advertising and promotion of alcoholic drinks, even those falling well short of a total ban, would favour small producers over big ones. Indeed I would say overall they would tend to prop up established players and well-known brands. If you can’t advertise products, effectively you can’t introduce new ones, so a market without advertising ends up being ossified.