The coalition will announce restrictive regulatory changes to the £13.4bn British tobacco industry on National No Smoking Day on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 which shopkeepers believe could force closures.
The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has called several retail representative bodies, which are largely against the probable changes, to his office on Wednesday morning. They include the British Retail Consortium, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and the Association of Convenience Stores, the last of which represents more than 33,500 local shops. (Following the 2010 General Election, Andrew Lansley was proud to accept David Cameron's appointment as the Secretary of State for Public Health.)
Later that day, Mr Lansley is expected to confirm plans to stop businesses displaying tobacco in a move that critics believe will backfire and glamourise the industry for youngsters, as cigarettes will be seen as more illicit. The changes will not apply to Scotland, where the government is pursuing its own ban.
However, it is believed that Mr Lansley will delay introducing the display ban. Originally, large shops were to implement the ban in October with smaller outlets to follow next year. It is thought that Mr Lansley will give the different shop groupings an extra year to comply.
Government officials have told retail groups that there are likely to be some compromises in the Tobacco Control Plan. When customers ask for cigarettes, retailers were originally only going to be allowed to show them 1,500 sq cm of the display, about one shelf of a small gantry. This has already been increased to 7,500 sq cm. It is expected that the coalition, which is thought to have discussed the measures in Cabinet last week, will double the size to 15,000 sq cm.
The changes to displays will prove costly, estimates suggest £70m for small retailers, while shopkeepers fear that not putting cigarettes out in the open could cost them one of their major sources of revenue.
An industry source said that the compromise would "alienate everybody in the debate", as there would be both a ban and a significant amount on display once the gantry is opened.
The Government is also considering whether to force cigarette manufacturers to sell their wares in plain packaging. There could be a consultation on this idea rather than a formal commitment as this is fraught with legal difficulties over intellectual property.
Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are pursuing an application for judicial review of the display ban. The EU is also considering the introduction of a directive restricting tobacco retailing.
Reference: Minister to use No Smoking Day to announce display ban Health Secretary to press ahead with tobacco sale restrictions, despite £70m cost to small retailers by Mark Leftly, 3/6/2011.