Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Supermarket cigarettes: the brands that dare not speak their name

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 21 March 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:929
  1. Martin J Jarvis, reader in health psychology (
  1. Imperial Cancer Research Fund Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 6BT
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Jarvis
  • Accepted 9 January 1998

In terms of brand shares, the cigarette trade in the United Kingdom is dominated by the multinational tobacco companies, whose brands together hold over 90% of the market. But the situation in terms of numbers of brands is quite different. Recent years have seen a proliferation of brands sold by one retailer only (termed supermarket own label brands). In 1995, 153 (54%) brands monitored by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist were supermarket brands, compared with 114 (46%) from multinational tobacco companies and 17 (6%) brands of limited availability (for example, the brand sold in the House of Commons—“House of Commons King Size”). This contrasts with 10 years ago, when only 4% were supermarket brands.

Supermarket brands sell at a substantial discount and are not advertised, and there is little public awareness that major retailers are active players on their own account in the cigarette market. The market share held by supermarket brands could expand, particularly if cigarette advertising is banned and as the real cost of cigarettes increases. This article aims to document the situation, to draw up a profile of people who smoke these brands, and to comment briefly on some of the issues raised.

Summary points

All the main supermarkets sell own label brands of cigarettes; these make up the majority of brands on sale in the United Kingdom

Most supermarkets do not put their name on the packet, suggesting their awareness that involvement in the tobacco trade sits uneasily with the healthy image they like to promote

Supermarkets' own label brands currently have a market share of 7%, but this could …

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