More than 70,000 UK newsagents are engaged in a last ditch battle to prevent a ban on the display of tobacco products that they argue will cause fresh shop closures.
Anjali Karpal, a retailer and branch officer for the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), which is one of Europe's largest retail trade associations, has called on cabinet minister Francis Maude to lobby against the sanction.
In a letter to Mr Maude, Mrs Karpal and her husband, Prabodh, wrote: "There is no evidence from anywhere in the world where display bans have been introduced that they reduce levels of smoking among adolescents or adults. Instead, this legislation is asking the 70,000 small shops that sell tobacco across the UK to collectively pay £70m to implement a measure that will not work at a time when small shops like mine are struggling to survive"
The proposed ban was tabled by the last Labour government and would make it illegal for any tobacco products to be displayed or advertised in stores. Cigarette gantries behind tills would be removed and cigarettes stored under the counter. It is currently under review and a decision on implementing the ban, which would come into force in 2013, is expected in the next few weeks. Although opposed by the Tories at the time, it still looks likely to be passed by the Coalition. Tobacco makes up 30 per cent of sales in the small shop sector and critics say it will adversely affect newsagents.
Mr Maude's office said he will make representations on Mrs Karpal's behalf. Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove and Portslade, tabled two questions to the departments of business and health last week. He asked what impact on business rates this ban would have on local councils and shops closed and what evidence supported the assertion that a ban would lead to reduced smoking rates.
Mr Weatherley said: "I am a committed 'anti-smoker' in that I firmly believe any measures that could help to reduce smoking are to be encouraged. However, I was recently invited to meet small shop retailers in my constituency and was shocked by how worried they were about the proposed tobacco display ban. Their estimate – not the tobacco companies – is that they will need £20,000 more to offset the cost of implementation. There is a worry many will close, playing into the hands of the major supermarkets".
Mrs Karpal said: "My husband and I have run shops for more than 20 years and this ban is really going to put our livelihood in danger. We are already finding trading conditions harder because of the recession. I am worried that customers will not come to my shops if they are not sure that cigarettes are sold. The government should make proxy purchasing of cigarettes illegal and educate people against the risk of tobacco smoking rather than hurting small retailers."