By Daniel Hunter

Retailers have been forced to spend an estimated £15.6 million installing new units to keep cigarettes hidden from view even though the Government is still considering the possibility of plain packaging for tobacco products — evidence of the Government failing to recognise the impact of unnecessary regulation.

With just one month until the tobacco display ban comes into effect for retailers in England, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) is criticising the lack of co-ordination on tobacco policy. If plain packaging is introduced it is pointless to force stores to keep tobacco products out of sight.

From 6 April 2012 all shops in England larger than 280 square metres which sell tobacco must keep it hidden from customers. A shelf area no larger than 1.5 square metres is allowed to be temporarily exposed while a customer is served or so retailers can restock, clean or carry out staff training. Price lists and posters, necessary because customers will not be able to see the products, have to be in a specified font and font size. Smaller stores are exempt from the legislation until April 2015.

Delays finalising the regulations and establishing a start date reduced the time retailers had to comply with the new rules, further increasing the cost. The policy will impose annual costs which the Government estimates at £2.4 million but retailers expect to be far higher. The Government has also so far failed to identify an equivalent regulation which will be scrapped as part of its "one-in one-out" policy.

"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 the same department is 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.

"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."

Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness