The government’s announcement on the tobacco display ban was met with shock and disbelief by the industry last month. Experts warned retailers they would end up shouldering the financial burden of

a ’dark’ tobacco market, as well as having to deal with the other implications such as safety concerns in store and a risk of the rise in black market sales. Retailers dismissed the move as the ultimate in "nanny state interference" and just plain "barmy". It was also claimed that the government’s proposals were anti-competitive and undermined the principle of adult choice.

Among those most vocal was the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), which slammed the announcement, saying it "made a mockery" of government claims to be a friend of small and local businesses. ACS chief executive James Lowman added: "We have explained that implementing a tobacco display ban will cost our industry over £250m and concessions on a longer lead-in period will not allay our grave concerns." The ACS estimated implementing the ban would cost up to £5,000 per store.

Making the announcement on December 9, Health Minister Alan Johnson said the ban would affect smaller retailers from 2013 - with supermarkets having to remove displays in 2011. The decision came at the end of a six-month government consultation on the future of tobacco control which saw it receive more than 96,000 responses. Johnson said: "Enticing multi-coloured displays encourage young people to start smoking - we must put a stop to this. Protecting children from smoking is our goal. My hope is that shops will use this opportunity to promote healthier goods to their customers." Tobacco displays have already been banned in Canada, and the UK government said this had coincided with a fall in smoking prevalence rates among 15- to 19-year-olds - from 29% in 2002 to 19% in 2007.

== nanny state ==

While the ACS and others expressed fears over the effect of the move on smaller retailers, the government stated: "There is no evidence that stores have had to close as a result of removing displays in either Iceland or in Canada." It said evidence from Canada suggested the cost of refitting could be as low as £550 per store. Other tobacco-related plans were scrapped as a result of the consultation, including getting rid of 10-pack cigarettes. Meanwhile, people buying tobacco from vending machines will have to show proof of age.

The government may have said no stores have had to close in Canada, but UK retailers feel the move will certainly result in lost sales for them, as well as extra expense and hassle. Paul Sykes, managing director of Shaw Petroleum, said: "I think it’s absolutely barmy and once again our government is telling us how to live our lives. This is a very simple situation: retailers shouldn’t sell cigarettes to anyone under age, and if they do they should be closed down. These politicians want to tell us how to do everything, and they want to interfere with every little detail of our lives. It’s about time we stood up and said enough is enough."

Paul said his sites would be hit by lost tobacco sales as a result of the ban, while the government would also lose revenue. He added: "If people want to smoke then they will do it anyway."

Joe Brough, sales director of Manor Service Stations, said the only blessing was that there were a few years before the ban came in for smaller shops. But the general feeling was that it was a waste of time and money. He added: "We’re going to have to see exactly what is and what isn’t allowed, but it’s going to mean a lot of problems for people. We have to somehow show our customers what we’re selling, so there needs to be some sort of display. As usual, the government has only looked at one side of the story - in Canada. But this is bound to send a lot of trade underground. As forecourt operators, to a certain extent we’ll be able to take our lead from the supermarkets because they have to implement the ban earlier. At least that gives us a bit more time to sort it out."

== age verification ==

Dave Bryans, president of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, said the last thing small businesses needed was more regulatory burdens. He added: "I have watched with interest the development of the UK government’s strategy to follow the Canadian market by banning the display of tobacco products. Retail display bans were first introduced to the Canadian market in the province of Saskatchewan in 2004. There is no evidence that the removal of tobacco displays from retail stores there has had any impact on the sale of tobacco. Tobacco sales volumes have remained consistent in the four years since the ban was introduced."

Contrary to what the UK government has reported, Bryans said teen smoking rates were also reportedly on the rise - the result of rampant illegal contraband tobacco sales. He added: "The only measurable outcome of the retail display ban in Saskatchewan appears to be a negative impact on the c-store industry itself."

According to Bryans, retailers in Canada subject to tobacco display bans have seen:

? increased safety concerns for shop staff from theft;

? increases to capital costs as retailers must install and maintain covered shelving units;

? operating cost rises as staff training requirements grow;

? increased regulatory burden to be borne by retailers who must ensure their products are hidden.

He concluded: "What does have a great effect on reducing youth smoking is a zero-tolerance approach to age verification. Our association has been vigilant in introducing and applying a strict programme of age checks in c-stores to stop young people getting access to a product they should not have. Our ’We Expect ID’ programme is among the world’s best in this regard. As the UK walks down the road that Canada has already taken, there should be pause to reflect on both the absence of any measurable benefits from tobacco display bans and also the great likelihood that this action will mean many small convenience stores will soon be forced to shutter their doors."

== better ways to do it ==

Meanwhile the tobacco companies agreed that there were better ways to regulate use. Among these were Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which owns Gallaher. Eddy Pirard, JTI regional president for UK and Ireland, said: "We agree with the main rationale underlying the Department of Health Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control that ’children and young people’ should not smoke and should not be able to buy tobacco products. However, there are better ways of reducing youth smoking uptake and better means to make them work effectively than introducing such a ban. The Department of Health and its consultation exercise have, quite simply, failed to produce evidence which justifies the proposed ban. The proposals will be counter-productive and have unintended consequences on competition and on the illicit trade of tobacco."

The better ways of reducing youth smoking that Pirard alludes to include making proxy purchasing and the purchase or attempted purchase of tobacco products by youths a crime; giving greater resources and manpower for HMRC, the UK Border Agency and Trading Standards; reinforcing retail access prevention measures including ’No ID No Sale’ and targeted public information campaigns.

Imperial Tobacco claimed the display ban was anti-competitive and undermined the principle of adult choice. Amal Pramanik, general manager of Imperial Tobacco in the UK, said: "Imperial Tobacco shares the government’s objective to reduce the rates of youth smoking but we are totally opposed to regulation that restricts or prohibits retailers from displaying tobacco products. Furthermore, we utterly refute claims that ’the display of tobacco in retail environments has become the primary source of tobacco marketing for young people’."

The company said it felt the government was not fully aware of the potential impact of the ban on retailers. Pramanik added: "Product display restrictions are unnecessary and ill-conceived and there is absolutely no evidence from other markets that consumption has declined as a result of such legislation. Currently 27% of cigarettes consumed in the UK each year are non-duty paid and a ban on display will undoubtedly increase the illicit trade in tobacco products which will significantly impact on the livelihoods of legitimate retailers. Stricter enforcement of the current age laws coupled with more resources for Trading Standards to tackle illegal selling is the answer. This should be the key priority rather than to burden those retailers who sell a legitimate product with these anti-competitive proposals."

The company said adult smokers should not be denied the same rights as other consumers to view and make an informed choice about what they buy. Pramanik said: "The display of tobacco products is an integral part of the purchasing process as it provides adult smokers with the information to make a genuine selection from the wide range of tobacco products, brands and prices available in retail outlets."

Chris Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA), warned of the "serious unintended consequences" of the ban. He said display bans hadn’t worked in other countries - and that in Iceland and Canada such bans had not reduced the consumption of cigarettes. He added: "A ban on the display of products will also blur the distinction between the legal and illegal market by virtue of it all being ’out of sight’ and will play into the hands of criminals trying to infiltrate the retail network. Smuggling continues to account for up to 17% of cigarette and 59% of handrolling tobacco consumption, resulting in a loss of up to £3.1bn to HM Treasury. The display ban proposal is likely to increase counterfeiting and illicit trade. Displays are necessary for fair and undistorted competition between manufacturers and between retailers.

"Adults who choose to smoke should have the right to buy tobacco, and retailers the right to display and sell what is, after all, a legal product. We welcome sensible proposals that will assist in preventing the sale of tobacco to children under the age of 18, which are fair, balanced, proportionate and above all, evidence-based."