The Association of Convenience Stores has urged the Government not to press ahead with plans to ban tobacco displays as part of its Future of Tobacco Control Strategy. The focus should instead be on taking action in the areas that are more likely to have a direct impact on youth smoking - tackling illicit tobacco and banning proxy purchasing. The comments were made

in its response to the Department of Health’s consultation, submitted today.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “A tobacco display ban will cost our industry millions of pounds, and we now know that there is no compelling evidence that a ban will reduce youth smoking. Having considered the evidence, Government has to conclude that pursuing a display ban is a distraction that prevents them from addressing the more pressing and difficult problems of the black market and adults who willingly provide tobacco to under-18s.”

ACS evidence sets out the costs of banning the display of tobacco. The ban will require retailers to spend a minimum of £1,850 per store and the costs of removing tobacco from display could rise to over £250 million across the industry.

ACS has also submitted a detailed analysis of the Government estimates of the benefit of the display ban. It shows how this estimate is unfounded, in particular that there is no evidence from other countries or the existing academic literature that shows that a ban would have the desired effect in the UK. However ACS has calculated that a 25% reduction in the amount of illegal tobacco available on the streets would lead to a £3.4 billion health benefit as well as cracking down on a lucrative trade dominated by international organised crime. ACS’ proposals set out clearly how more effective enforcement and stronger penalties can make a real difference in this area.

In their submission, ACS argues for it to be made illegal for adults to proxy purchase tobacco for those under-18. Government figures show that 89% of underage smokers say they are either given tobacco or buy it from adults who purchase it on their behalf.

Lowman said: “Government has to take decisive action to tackle the insidious problem of illicit tobacco. One in three young smokers get tobacco from the illicit trade, but as its stands almost nothing is being done to catch and deter those criminals that are selling tobacco to children on our streets. We have spelled out the concrete actions that will make a real difference on this issue.

“Adults who buy tobacco on behalf of an under-18 do so in full knowledge that the person they are buying for is underage. This is the single most likely way that young people will be introduced to smoking, and as its stands nothing is done about it. Proxy purchasing is immoral and it should be illegal.”

Lowman is willing to discuss how existing tobacco display rules work with Department of Health: “We understand that some retail marketing practices are perceived to go beyond the spirit of the existing regulations. With that in mind we are willing to discuss with Government ways in which they could be tightened to allay concerns without placing costs and operational burdens on retailers. If we approach these issues constructively we can resolve these concerns quickly and focus on the big strategic issues.”