Three in four British retailers fear that a ban on tobacco displays will shift trade from their stores to the black market, a survey by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA) has found.

The survey of 26,000 TRA members also revealed that 56% of retailers were aware of smuggled tobacco being sold in their area, while 40% knew of street traders who routinely supplied tobacco to underage smokers.

Retailers are convinced that a display ban in stores will do nothing but fan the black market's flames, and burn the legitimate trade.

“If smokers aren’t aware that shops sell tobacco, they are going to be all the more tempted to get it from car boot sales or sellers on street corners,” said Leicestershire retailer and national spokesman for the TRA Ken Patel. “Why wouldn’t they, when smugglers can sell at half the price?

“If the government forces us to sell it from under the counter, they are forcing the whole trade under the counter, and the sale of dodgy tobacco will only increase.”

The TMA findings are supported by a recent NHS Information Centre study which found that more youngsters were buying tobacco from sources other than shops than ever before.

In 2008, 52% of regular youth smokers said they sourced their tobacco from “other people,” compared with 42% in 2004.

Glasgow retailer Fiona Barrett said the government needed to work with retailers, rather than against them, to tackle the issue of tobacco smuggling head on. “That way, we can continue to provide the valuable service that we do for our customers,” she said.