HEALTH campaigners have dismissed fears that a ban on displaying cigarettes in shops would increase smuggling as “tobacco industry scare tactics”.
In December last year the Government announced plans to force shop owners to store all tobacco products under the counter.
They believe it will curb teenage smoking.
But tobacconists, including Kirklees councillor Mohammed Sarwar, say it will ruin their trade and encourage smokers to buy counterfeit and illegally imported cigarettes.
Clr Sarwar said: “Cigarette sales are going down already as people buy them from somewhere else, maybe the black market.
“We don’t want a ban on the displays, it will affect small shops.
“Supermarkets can cope without it as they’re getting sales on other products.”
Last month a new survey by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance found that almost three-quarters (72%) of corner shopkeepers in Yorkshire and Humberside believed a ban on tobacco gantries would increase the number of smokers getting tobacco from the black market.
The findings come as the new coalition government considers whether to revoke the display ban legislation agreed by the previous government in 2009.
Health Minister Andrew Lansley has expressed concern that the move would not reduce youth smoking following claims that smoking rates in Canada rose following a display ban there.
John Abbott, the Yorkshire Spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, said: “There is a huge black market in tobacco in this country, and that really affects tobacco sales in small shops like mine.
“Putting tobacco under the counter will make smokers feel like they’re doing something illegal when they buy tobacco from a shop.
“If they think that, they might as well get it from a smuggler who sells it at half the price I can.
“Retailers like me ask customers for ID if we think they are under-age, but the criminals who sell smuggled and counterfeit tobacco aren’t bothered and will sell tobacco to anyone.”
But John McClurey, former North of England President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, described information circulated by the tobacco industry as “scare tactics”.
Mr McClurey said he had been to Ireland where a display ban had been in place since July 2009.
He said: “I was amazed at how enthusiastic Irish retailers were.
“Complying with the legislation had not been expensive and sales to adults haven’t been affected.
“Displays aren’t really aimed at existing smokers – after all nine out of ten smokers know what brand they want before they come in and the rest will make their decision largely on price.”
A spokesman for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said international evidence showed that smuggling did not increase following a cigarette display ban.
He said: “As in the UK, Ireland has a long-standing problem with tobacco smuggling and the trend in duty paid cigarettes remains unchanged.
“Similarly, Canada has had a long-term problem with tobacco smuggling and manufacturers have sought to blame the tobacco display ban.
“In fact, the two have proved to be unrelated and tobacco industry sources recently reported that Canadian sales of duty paid cigarettes have increased by 20% as the illicit market has fallen.”