Tobacco plus government has in recent years only added up to one thing for retailers: trouble.

However, in the context of a generally oppressive and inequitable legislative regime, the government's recently published tobacco control strategy document was, so to speak, a breath of fresh air.

It was encouraging that tackling the illicit trade was given such a high priority in the policy announcement, and that immediate investment will be made in more overseas officers. Crucially, the statement also acknowledged the major role that black market tobacco plays in 'recruiting' young smokers. It's cheap, it's plentiful and nobody selling it checks ID, so well done UK Govt for finally spotting that one.

Further encouragement can be gained from what was left out of the document. In the weeks preceding its publication, there were rumours that it would include a licensing system. This is still very much on the cards for Scottish retailers, but it seems that their counterparts in England and Wales have so far, at least escaped a similar fate. Whatever the arguments for licensing and it could arguably make prosecution of illicit operators easier the experience of the new alcohol licensing system suggests that it would be complicated, bureaucratic and, above all, costly for the trade.

Yet they are still pushing on with display restrictions and fiddly new implementation guidelines surrounding price lists and restocking, and still considering plain packaging (an interesting one for the lawyers, that). So despite it being the best news for tobacco retailers for some time, it's still only one cheer rather than three.

Election fever

With the election phoney war underway, there is a danger that alcohol will be a major issue on the hustings, and retailers may be caught in the crossfire.

The opposition parties are seizing on 'Booze Britain' as a symbol of a government losing control, and are competing to take an increasingly rabid line on retailers.

One likely, if not inevitable, outcome is greater restriction on retailers. Three strikes and out for an underage sale has already become two, and might yet be down to one by the time the election comes around.

Alcohol remains a category with great potential for c-stores, particularly after the demise and break up of the Threshers/Victoria Wine First Quench group. So let's hope that every politician can keep their cool in the months ahead.