March was a crucial month in the continuing debate over the future of tobacco gantries.

New details of the extent of the ban have come to light which suggest that its supporters are prepared to compromise in order to reduce opposition. In what some see as an admission of the weakness of the evidence to support the ban, the Department of Health has announced that gantries can remain if they are covered by a sheet or screen.

It also concedes that retailers would be able to put signs outside their stores to tell customers that they sell cigarettes, and display a price list at the point of sale.

However, it's far too early to start talking of a win for the Keep Tobacco over the Counter campaign. With the Health Bill, which includes the display proposals, due for a second reading in the Commons, now is the time for retailers to impress upon their MP just how expensive and ineffective the legislation would be.

Opponents of the ban believe the government is attempting to dissipate objections by reducing the cost to retailers, but its own Impact Assessment suggests an average cost of compliance of £1,000 for 66,000 retailers - a massive hit to an industry struggling for credit.

The retailers' view - that a display ban would impose a financial and operational burden on them while doing nothing to reduce youth smoking rates - gained valuable support from policy-makers who believe any proposed solutions should be evidence-based.

The point was well made by Earl Howe during a Lords debate. "As with any proposal to extend the law, we have to be clear about two things," he said. "First, that the evidence justifying the policy is robust and, secondly, that the collateral damage caused is proportionate to the good that we are trying to achieve. This proposal does not pass either test."

Howe added: "We need to look more widely for evidence that point-of-sale displays influence the take-up of smoking.

"What does the government think they it is doing in bearing down on small shops at a time when retailers are already under acute pressure from the economic downturn?"

National newspapers reported splits at the highest level within government, with cabinet ministers said to be opposed to the ban on the grounds that it would penalise retailers and draw attention from the more important issue of the illegal supply of tobacco products.

Conservative frontbenchers also criticised the policy, and New Zealand's rejection of a similar move heartened retailers, with Prime Minister John Key saying: "There is no international evidence that it actually works and it's hugely expensive to do it."

With supporters like these behind us, Convenience Store calls for one more push from all our readers to once and for all put the ban in the bin.
campaign update
Our campaign to prevent the supply of tobacco products to children through adults has received the backing of retailers across the country.

We asked Convenience Store readers to write to their MP and point out that while they can be prosecuted for accidentally selling tobacco products, there is no law to prevent adults proxy buying cigarettes and then giving or selling them on to under-18s.

More than 300 readers visited our website to view a sample letter, and we've asked those who have contacted their MP to let us know what response they get.

Members of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents took the matter to the heart of government at a parliamentary reception recently. National president Naresh Purohit called for "a ban on the purchase of tobacco by adults for supply to minors".

Federation officials also passed the message to Labour Health Minister Baroness Thornton of Bradford. They told her a ban on proxy purchasing would be more effective than the proposed display ban.

What you can do:

Write to your MP. Explain that the ban would impose costs on you, but not stop young people obtaining tobacco products.

Tell them that tackling the real sources of supply to children - peddlars of smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes - should be their priority.

You'll find your MP's contact details at