Tobacco display ban goes ahead as planned despite lively late debate

The Health Bill has finally completed its progress through the House of Commons, meaning that a display ban on tobacco products will be imposed on large stores from 2011 and small stores from 2013.

Last-ditch lobbying efforts by trade associations to rally the support of MPs ultimately failed, but did help to stimulate a heated five-hour long debate in parliament, during which Public Health Minister Gillian Merron was slammed for having failed to publish regulations ahead of the vote. More than 20 independent retailers looked on as the amendment to remove the clause banning tobacco displays in stores was finally defeated by 288 votes to 180.

A separate vote on the new clause to create an offence of supplying tobacco to a child was also defeated by 279 to 193, as was an amendment to force tobacco to be sold in plain packaging.

Although it was widely expected, news of the display ban's approval sparked fury in the small store industry. Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman said it could be "the most costly and disruptive tobacco display ban of its type in the world."

He continued: "It makes a mockery of the repeated reassurances that Ministers have made to Parliament and businesses that they will take a light touch approach to compliance.

"We remain convinced that if MPs were presented with credible alternatives to this measure such as proper deterrents to those that are complicit in giving tobacco to children and effective measures to tackle the illegal trade in communities, they would agree that the display ban is unnecessary," he added.

Tobacco manufacturers also said that the ban would lead to a significant increase in the illicit trade. "Organised crime will exploit the ban," Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association (TMA) said.

Evidence from Ireland, where a display ban has now been in place for three months bore this out, added Amal Pramanik, general manager of Imperial Tobacco UK.