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Monday 2 July 2012

How to Spot Another ASH Stooge

I am always sceptical when I see a pro-plain packs piece written by an independent retailer.  It's not that I believe every independent retailer is against plain packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products, because there must be a few who truly believe plain packs are a good idea. No, the reason I become sceptical is because I find it difficult to believe that a retailer would bother to write a lengthy opinion piece in support of tobacco control if perhaps he was not working for tobacco control in some capacity.

Enter Gateshead's LibDem Councillor John McClurey, who is also a shopkeeper of the Greentree News in  Newcastle upon Tyne, and whose opinion piece supporting plain packs appears at the web site here.  McClurey writes:

In the three decades I have been selling tobacco, attitudes towards smoking have done a dramatic about-turn. [...] That’s why I feel it’s so important to present a balanced view on the subject of plain packaging, and lay to rest some of the scare tactics the tobacco industry is unfairly presenting to my colleagues in the trade.

Hold up a second. He's been selling tobacco for thirty years. Let's think about that for just a moment. He has profited by selling cigarettes in a shop for at least thirty years.  In a "personal communication" to ASH he told them that he makes about up to 5% profit on a packet of 20s (see PDF page 17 (reference no. 11) and page 7).  What he and ASH doesn't mention is that A) these are probably the pre-priced packs (PMPs) for the value-for-money brands like Pall Mall, and B) how much profit he makes from selling roll-your-own tobacco and other smokers' articles, which is surely a higher percentage, but never mind that.  At present market rates of roughly £7 per pack, using his 5% figure he makes about 35p per packet. That is not a huge amount, but then we don't know how much he sells every day. Let us suppose then:

If he sells only 50 packets per day (a very low figure, admittedly, considering he also says tobacco sales comprise 1/3 of a small retailer's turnover -- see above PDF -- and considering the area where is shop is located), he has made £17.50 for doing almost nothing except for stocking packets and ringing up the purchases.  If his shop is open 7 days per week and he consistently sells on average 50 packets per day, then he makes £122 profit per week.  The take for one month at this rate is about £490, and for a year it is £5,880.

Not bad. Not bad. But those figures are not remotely accurate. The truth is, retailers actually have a much higher margin for the popular brands like Marlboro Lights or any brand that is not pre-priced.  Behold a Spar retailer's profit margin (note, this is the article that ASH cited in their PDF -- and do note how they completely cherry-picked and distorted the figures in their document to suit their agenda):

Paul’s top-selling cigarette brand is Marlboro Lights, which he sells with a 13% margin at £6.82, helping him to make a 76p profit on a pack of 20.

Really? 13%? That's more than double McClure's dodgy figure that ASH weaselled out of him. Let's redo the maths, again using the very low sales figure of 50 packets of 20s per day. 

50 packets per day = £38 profit.
One week = £266
One month = £1,064
One year = £12,768

So you can see why it's worthwhile to sell cigarettes even at small volumes, which is why John McClurey has been doing it for 30 years, and why he continues do to so despite his personal feelings about tobacco and the allure of trade marks on a packet. The margins may be small in comparison to luxury items and some foods, but selling smokes is definitely profitable for any retailer.  It is a no-brainer. More important than that is understanding what your customers want to buy when they come to your shop. McClurey's customers clearly want to buy cigarettes, which is why he sells them. Being an independent retailer, McClurey has a choice, however.  He could choose not to sell cigarettes. If he believed so strongly that tobacco is bad for the community, if he truly believed that then why does he continue to sell cigarettes and tobacco?  McClurey is the ultimate hypocrite (thanks to Pat Nurse for pointing that out on Twitter).  I suppose it's easy to see why he's attracted to politics then.

So what else does he have to say in his opinion piece?
Earlier this year I presented these arguments to the all party parliamentary group on smoking and health. My views have made me unpopular with some of my colleagues [...]

No fucking shit, Sherlock. That's because you're not telling the whole truth and your actions are likely to make your competitors lose money. They know it to be true. You're an ASH stooge, evidently.  How do we know that?  Well, because you appear in numerous ASH anti-tobacco publications.

Like this one, for instance:
But former North of England President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, John McClurey, has described information circulated by the tobacco industry as "scare tactics". McClurey has been to Ireland where a display ban has been in place since July 2009.

McClurey said:  “I was amazed at how enthusiastic Irish retailers were. Complying with the legislation had not been expensive and sales to adults haven’t been affected. These displays aren’t really aimed at existing smokers; after all nine out of ten smokers know what brand they want before they come in and the rest will make their decision largely on price.”

You live in Gateshead. What the hell are you doing in Ireland dealing with Irish retailers in the first place? How did you get there? Did someone pay for that trip for you?  Questions, questions...

Or how about this one:
Retailer John McClurey commented: “We are always under pressure from the [tobacco] industry reps to broaden our range of stock and try out new products. This means we’re often required to stock products that we wouldn’t otherwise choose to hold. It’s the industry rather than our customers who determine what’s on sale.”

Funny how ASH keep coming back to you. Are there no other retailers about they could ask? Is it because you are also a politician that they come to you for quotes?

Here's another ASH publication with even blog favourite stooge and fellow LibDem Stephen Williams MP mentioning you in respect of plain packs and display ban:
The latter is a necessary measure to help prevent children becoming smokers, which, as local shopkeeper John McClurey says in this issue, will not be difficult for retailers to implement.

And here's a screen cap your piece in that very same ASH publication -- lovely pic by the way, you look dashing, sir:

Oh, look! You've been to Guernsey, too?
SHOPKEEPERS must move with the times, according to one retailer who supports the ban on displaying tobacco.

John McClurey (pictured) was in Guernsey last night to give a presentation to local tobacco retailers and States members.

Presentation, huh?  In Guernsey?  And you're not even the president of the retailers group any longer. Nice work if you can get it. Who paid for that trip to Guernsey? How'd you get there?

Here's a letter you wrote to the Guardian:
Professor Ann McNeill suggests that removing tobacco displays will reduce youth smoking in the long term without harming small shops in the short term (Research notes, 11 January). I am a small shopkeeper myself. I've been to Ireland and spoken to retailers there and I think she's right. It will make it a little easier for smokers to quit and a little less likely for young people to start. The big tobacco companies have been trying to convince people like me to campaign against the new law on their behalf. It is the oldest dirty trick in the book. Let's hope the coalition don't fall for it.

John McClurey, Gateshead

Here's one from the Huddersfield Examiner (and I note your "colleagues" completely disagree with your view):

But John McClurey, former North of England President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, described information circulated by the tobacco industry as “scare tactics”.

Mr McClurey said he had been to Ireland where a display ban had been in place since July 2009.
He said: “I was amazed at how enthusiastic Irish retailers were.

“Complying with the legislation had not been expensive and sales to adults haven’t been affected.

“Displays aren’t really aimed at existing smokers – after all nine out of ten smokers know what brand they want before they come in and the rest will make their decision largely on price.”

A spokesman for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said international evidence showed that smuggling did not increase following a cigarette display ban.

For a little retailer, you sure do get around. But it's not just ASH you work for, you got your grubby little mitts in with FRESH too:
Gateshead shopkeeper John McClurey, who has spent 28 years selling cigarettes from his North East store, said: “In my experience smokers see lighter colours as somehow being less toxic. I have certainly been aware of customers considering this type of cigarette as a way of cutting down.

“Health should always come before profits and that is why I am increasingly uncomfortable with children coming in every day and seeing these brightly coloured packets on the shelves.”

But councillor McClurey, if health should come before profits, as you are so keen to point out, why then are you still selling tobacco? Because you're hyperhypocritical, that's why.

Well, I could go on, because there are several dozen more articles mentioning you in respect of tobacco products and it's no wonder you are no longer the president of that retailers association. Maybe they thought you did not represent them adequately?  I dunno.

But there's one last recent article that I believe, in my opinion of course, describes your character quite well. Here you were forced to apologise for liking a Facebook page called "chavs are freaks, throw stones at them":
A COUNCILLOR has been accused of demonising young people after supporting a Facebook page that implores people to ‘stone chavs’. [...] The page called ‘chavs are freaks, throw stones at them’ has more than 3,600 fans, which until this week included the Gateshead shopkeeper and former North of England President of the Newsagents Federation.

Really, now. Didn't know how it worked, did you? Love that excuse by the way. Didn't know what the word "Like" means, so you clicked it. That's an easy mistake I suppose. Like.  It's a difficult word.  Or...  Oops! You got caught out hating, mate.  Pop quiz: So, what's the difference between demonising smokers and demonising the kids from working class families?  None! It's still demonising people, dickhead! Everybody who smokes is probably a chav worthy of being stoned. Is that right? These very same people who come into your shop and buy the goods you sell -- tell us, do you pity them when you hand over a packet of Silk Cut or B&H? Despise them? How do you feel about your customers, McClurey? Do tell. How do you feel?

Because I have a feeling, sir, that given your history and viewpoints you are going to do very, very well in politics.  I do, indeed.  You will make for a fine Super Twat of the Month someday.  In the meantime, maybe one of my readers who runs a business can explain if having liabilities of £74,000 is a good or bad thing.

I also suppose that working for the tobacco control industry is quite profitable under the right circumstances, certainly when business is a bit slow. It is always about money after all. Perhaps Councillor John McClurey would like to give us some tips on how we can get in on this cash cow. We are all ears, buddy. All ears...