New National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) national president Suleman Khonat has told newsagents the erosion of tobacco sales is a greater threat to their businesses than the decline of newspapers and magazines.

However, the Blackburn-based retailer reassured members that the Federation would not abandon its founding principles. "We are still a news- and magazine-focused organisation, but we have to recognise that our members' businesses are much more dependent on other markets than they were," he said.

"The impact of a serious erosion of our tobacco sales will be far greater than many of the news and magazines issues we get hot under the collar about.

"We have to get this balance right, not by doing less on newstrade issues, but by doing more on these other matters."

Khonat revealed that his strategy would be to establish an effective working relationship with publishers and wholesalers. "My number one interest is not the things that divide us, but how we can work together to revitalise a declining industry," he said. "Things have changed and we must make sure members get the best deal possible under the circumstances that prevail."

However, there was little sign of sympathy for the wholesalers and publishers in a petition of 750 signatures calling for government support for newsagents, which Khonat delivered to the OFT last week. One petitioner called the recent changes in distribution contracts "disgraceful behaviour by the publishers - they only care about supermarkets and multiples".

Another said: "We have to put up a fight against these corporate wolves who have no moral or ethical backbone and just consume and destroy hard-working citizens that provide a valuable service to us all."