The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) is leading the fightback by pointing out to the government that the legislation as it stands goes against the stated intention to keep the burden of compliance as light as possible for small shops.
During the Report Stage of the Health Bill, Public Health Minister Gillian Merron said: "The regulations are flexible and light touch rather than prescriptive Let me make it clear that retailers will be free to cover tobacco products as they see fit, provided that they cover the tobacco they stock."
ACS has pointed out that regulations as currently drafted (see Convenience Store, October 16 2009) do not deliver on the Minister's promise.
"We do not believe that the decision is consistent with the principles of Better Regulation," says the ACS. "Compliance with this legislation will be extremely disruptive to all tobacco retailers."
Retailers believe that a blanket ban on display is unwarranted as there's no evidence of its effectiveness. A more efficient approach would be to target those display practices which evidence has identified as problematic, such as power walls or arches.
ACS also disputes the government's estimate of how much it will cost retailers to comply with the regulations, which currently requires displays to be covered by a series of flaps measuring no more than 1,500sq cm each.
"Ministers have estimated the costs of the ban being between £210 and £850 per store," says chief executive James Lowman. "Our research, including detailed discussions with shopfitters, shows the likely cost of installing flaps over existing gantries will be more than double government estimates, at about £1,840 a store."
The National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) is making the case for an exemption for stores with a tobacco display of less than 20,000sq cm. National president Suleman Khonat says: "We believe that the government's powers to exempt certain displays from complete prohibition should be extended to reduce the burden on small businesses."
Neither trade body has given up the belief that the ban could yet be overturned. ACS has reminded the government that its members remain opposed to the ban in principle, pointing out the weaknesses in the evidence that a ban would reduce youth smoking.
In its submission to the Department of Health, NFRN warns that the proposed regulations are unworkable and over-complex, will not reduce the number of young people smoking, will lead to more organised crime and "will threaten the safety of independent retailers as well as burdening them with additional costs and a loss of revenue."
Meanwhile, retailers' representatives will keep pressure on all political parties to review the ban should they come to power later this year.
ACS' Lowman says: "Whoever forms the next government must step back and take a fresh look at the evidence on all sides in order to meet these objectives."