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Plain packaging for cigarettes is just plain nightmare for stores

ACT shop owners say the rollout of plain-package cigarettes is shaping as a "logistical nightmare", but many doubt the federal government-imposed regulations will affect cigarette company profits.

The new packets have appeared in Canberra supermarkets after the manufacturing of the previous packaging stopped at factories belonging to British American Tobacco in Sydney and Phillip Morris in Melbourne this month. However, while manufacturing has stopped, stores can legally sell the old packets until December 1.

Hughes IGA supermarket owner Michael Makas said he had sold a few of the new packets, which are required by law to be plain, except for health warnings and brand names.

He said selling the new packets was already a "logistical nightmare" because his staff had problems distinguishing between brands.

"The customers get annoyed because they're kept waiting while we find the specific brand they want," he said.

Ainslie IGA manager Manuel Xyrakis said he had only noticed he was selling a customer the wrong brand as he handed it over.

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He said he was keeping brands on set shelves to help confused staff. While cigarettes at the Ainslie IGA make up 8 per cent of turnover, Mr Xyrakis said smaller shops that relied on cigarettes and alcohol for sales would probably notice a drop in profit . "Stores where turnover is 15 to 17 per cent of cigarettes may record some loss," he said.

IGA X-Press East Row owner Abdul Osman said his store had strong tobacco trade, being one of the bigger shops in the city, but didn't expect sales to drop.

"I actually think we'll see a surge in sales for those tin cigarette cases that were big during the '70s because people want to cover those pictures."

Mr Makas said in the 12 years he's owned the Hughes shop, cigarette sales have remained at about 15 per cent of his total. He didn't think the new packaging would discourage customers from buying.

"Previously with cigarette warnings, a few customers initially started asking for certain packets based on the images. They'd say 'give me the one with the pregnant lady with bad teeth' because it wasn't as bad looking as some of the others," he said. "But that was just initially, we don't get that at all any more."

Quit Victoria executive director Fiona Sharkie said plain packaging was primarily designed to deter young people from smoking rather than encourage existing smokers to quit. She said that meant it was unlikely to affect retailers straight away. "In the 30 years we've been campaigning for things like bans on smoking at bars and restaurants people have been fearing it will send them out of business. Unfortunately, it takes a lot longer for people to quit [even though] 80 per cent of smokers tell us they want to."

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