UK law to ban shop cigarette displays faces compromise due to illegal sales


LEGISLATION TO block British shopkeepers from openly displaying cigarettes for sale, due to come into force early in the new year, is to be weakened after Conservative/Liberal Democrat ministers accepted that it could harm small businesses and encourage black-market sales of cigarettes.

Retailers and tobacco firms have lobbied to persuade the government not to go ahead with the restrictions, included in legislation passed in 2009 by Labour – citing the growth in illegal sales in Ireland since similar legislation was passed there.

Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable’s department is now negotiating changes to the implementation of the Health Act, which could require House of Commons approval, with the department of health, with one ministerial source insisting that there ‘will be a compromise’.

Opponents of the display ban were cheered recently after public health minister Anne Milton told MPs: “The government, in discussions across Whitehall, is developing options around the display of tobacco in shops that seek to ensure an appropriate balance between public health priorities and burdens on business.”

Irish black-market sales have jumped since the shop display ban came into force last year, argues Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association.

“We believe, as recent evidence in Ireland proves, that organised crime will exploit the display ban,” Mr Ogden said.

This “could encourage some smokers to buy from rogue traders prepared to sell more visible illicit product”.

Prime minister David Cameron, who has portrayed himself as an ally of the British pub, is not, however, to repeal the pubs’ smoking ban introduced in 2007, particularly on foot of health research from the department of health, which suggests that the number of heart attacks fell by 10 per cent in the year after the ban’s introduction.

In the Netherlands, the newly-elected coalition government has decided partially to reverse for small pubs a smoking ban introduced in 2008.

The Dutch move is a major victory for campaigners who have argued that the curbs are driving small bar owners out of business. Meanwhile, there is opposition as well in Spain to a smoking ban in public places due to come into law in January.

However, the authorities in Jersey – where lung cancer rates are 30 per cent higher than in England – are to go even further to discourage smoking with ministers there proposing to ban it in cars and public places, as well as outlawing vending machines.

Meanwhile, a district council in Norfolk in the east of England has said – with the support of unions and management – that workers will have to “clock out” if they are going outside for a cigarette.