As yet, it's still only a glimmer of hope, but there is a lot about the rational, pro-evidence and anti-regulation positioning of the new coalition government that gives grounds for optimism. There are even whispers within Westminster that some members of the government view scrapping the ban as a quick win for the small business community.
But it will still be tough to convince decision-makers to undo an existing regulation when there is so much positive stuff that still needs to be done. Perhaps the key battle will be to convince decision-makers that the display ban is, in fact, a business regulation at all, particularly when anti-smoking campaigners portray it as an urgent public health requirement. It never has been the done thing in this country to go against the advice of doctors, and in the giant departmental game of rock-paper-scissors, health beats business every time.
Yet there is still no evidence that people start smoking or fail to give up simply because they see a retail display of product, and without this evidence it is unjust and unreasonable to impose additional costs and daily disruption on tens of thousands of businesses across the UK. And let's not forget that the Conservatives promised a review of the evidence for a display ban while in opposition. So while we have these simple, rational facts to hold on to, we still have hope.
We all knew a tax hike was coming, so there was not too much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the increase in VAT to 20%.
On the basis that the trade has been given time to adjust and the tax regime has not been changed fundamentally, the emergency Budget could have turned out worse for retailers.
But it still feels uncomfortable to increase upward price pressure at a time when shoppers are trying to cut their expenditure. Consumers have shown that they are willing to shop locally during a recession, and independent retailers and wholesalers have done a great job in delivering value, but it is a new cause for concern about whether they will be able to remain sustainably competitive at the new tax rate.
Multiples are finding growth hard to come by, and price is the blunt instrument they use for market share, so they are going to be pressuring suppliers to absorb the VAT rise, a tactic that is not available to independents. So it looks like another year at least of hard graft for the trade.