Leading article: Under the counter

At a time when so much genuinely urgent business is at hand – today's Welfare Reform White Paper, for a start – it is hard to understand why the Government is pressing ahead with legislation to ban the open display of tobacco in shops. Is it at all likely that this will have an effect in any way proportionate to the inconvenience it causes to small shopkeepers? Far more important, how many would-be smokers will it actually deter?

The Government is certainly right to be concerned about the high number of teenagers still taking up smoking. And it is true that the ban on smoking in public places, while sizeable in its deterrent effect on adults, has probably done little to tackle under-age smoking. In small shops, as in supermarkets, though, tobacco is already kept behind the counter – if not under it – and the legal age of purchase has been raised to 18. There is surely a case for better enforcement of the law as it stands before precious parliamentary time is taken up with something new.