By Daniel Hunter

Tobacco products are being hidden from view in large shops in England from tomorrow (Friday) at an estimated cost of £15.6 million to retailers who've had to install new display units.

The new law has been brought in even though the Government is likely to consult on requiring plain packaging for all tobacco products. The display ban is due to apply to smaller stores from April 2015.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is criticising the lack of co-ordination on tobacco policy which is evidence of the Government failing to recognise the impact of unnecessary regulation.

Plain packaging would create its own difficulties for retailers, specifically around identifying different brands and preventing counterfeit goods but, if these were overcome, it could more effectively reduce the visibility of cigarettes everywhere, not just in shops. Instead the Government has raced ahead, forcing retailers to spend on store refits which may become irrelevant and are unlikely to make a difference.

Banning display is not tackling the root cause of why children become smokers. The Government's own statistics show children are more likely to be given cigarettes by friends and to take up the habit if they live with someone who smokes. The BRC says the Government should have taken steps to make ‘proxy purchasing' an offence, as has happened in Scotland. At the moment it's not illegal for an adult to buy cigarettes for a child.

"Implementing the tobacco display ban is inconsistent, irrational and fails the Government's own better regulation principles," British Retail Consortium Food Director, Andrew Opie, said.

"It's crazy to have forced large retailers to spend millions installing new shelves, introducing new signage and re-training staff while it's still considering new rules on packaging.

"If a decision is taken to go ahead with plain packaging, hiding tobacco products from view in store becomes irrelevant. Arguably, plain packaging could be more effective at achieving the Government's aims. What we have instead is the worst of both worlds — costly and unnecessary red tape which is unlikely to have a significant impact.

"Retailers are working closely with the Government to help people stop smoking, alongside all their other work on public health and obesity, but the new policy on tobacco displays in shops is a costly irrelevance which could soon be obsolete."

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