Small Australian stores are being hit by greater costs and operational burdens, with many struggling to offer satisfactory service to their customers, the first major survey of the impact of plain tobacco packaging since its introduction on December 1 has revealed.

According to the survey of 450 small stores, which was carried out by an independent research company and commissioned by Philip Morris with the support of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, 77% said generic packaging was having a “negative impact on their business overall,” with 90% saying the time taken to serve tobacco customers had grown.

As a result, just over 70% said they had faced increased frustration from customers, while 43% said their service to non-tobacco customers was suffering.

The difficulty of distinguishing between brands and variants had also led to 59% reporting a rise in the frequency of staff supplying the wrong products to customers. As a result, many retailers are also reporting a rise in the number of adult smokers attempting to return tobacco products.

Most small retailers polled also said they were now spending more time ordering stock, while 81% have experienced an increase in out of stocks since the transition.

Almost two-thirds of small retailers, meanwhile, have been forced to spend more time training staff, while two in five have faced additional costs from this training.

The ACS said the UK government should take note.

“We have seen from the Australian market that generic packaging causes significant costs and operational burdens for retailers and as such we oppose its introduction - especially as retailers gear up for the tobacco display ban in 2015,” ACS chief executive James Lowman said.

The UK Department of Health and Prime Minister David Cameron have both stated that a decision on whether or not to introduce plain packaging in the UK had not yet been reached.

Their comments follow a claim made in The Guardian last week that plain packaging legislation would be announced in the Queen’s speech in May.