Ban has potential to light up off-trade cigarette sales

Q When the smoking ban comes into force this summer, can I expect my sales to go up or down?

A If we were betting people we'd suggest you may see a small uplift, but evidence from areas where a ban is in force is inconclusive and contradictory.

There will doubtless be people who can't stand the idea of a beer without a fag, and they may well start socialising at home more . On the other hand, some of your cleaner-living customers may well decide that pubs are no longer off-limits and you could lose a bit of custom to a smoke-free boozer.

But these things are perhaps best judged by the people who have most to lose or gain , so we'll take our lead from Scottish & Newcastle, which has recently warned that it could lose £10 million this year in on-trade profits because of the smoking ban and added that the estimated 5 per cent fall in sales would only partially be offset by an increase in take-home trading.

So in other words, the off-trade could do reasonably well. But remember: even your customers won't be allowed to light up until they've left the shop.

the forum

To respond to the unanswered questions below, or to ask a reader's advice, simply e-mail:

Q Are price-marked beers good for business or do they just put a ceiling on your margin potential?

A I think the idea is that they give customers some reassurance that their friendly local retailer isn't ­hiking up prices in order to make anything as unseemly as a profit. We seem to do OK out of them.

Raj, Essex

A What puts a ceiling on your margin potential is the fact that you can often source these beers more cheaply in your local supermarket! Please don't try to tell me that the brewers don't support these crazy deals, which distort the market and threaten to kill the beer trade for independents.

MK, Manchester

Q The local police are recruiting volunteers for test purchasing. Should I encourage my nephews to take part?

A Why not? I doubt you'd get away with bugging them, but it would be interesting to hear what sort of instructions these kids get. The ones round here are often a dead giveaway because they're trying a bit too hard to appear 18 - not only do we send them away with a flea in their ear, but we encourage them to shave off the bumfluff. Maybe we'll get arrested for selling a 14-year-old a razor one of these days.

Mary, Sussex

A I don't think you'd be breaking the law but I suspect the police would take a pretty dim view of this. I suspect there will be some who'd encourage you to beat the system, but all you'll do is stir up a lot of ill feeling and your shop will be targeted as one of the problem ones. You'll be blitzed with test purchases and sooner or later you'll slip up. Honestly, don't provoke the police. It's not worth the aggravation.

Sue, Cambs

Q Is there a patron saint of off-licences?

Michael, Pembrokeshire

Q Does the process of growing, vinifying, bottling and distributing wine contribute to carbon dioxide emissions? If so, by how much?

Clive, Swindon

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