A new report claims that the Department of Health (DH) gave misleading low estimates of the cost of compliance with the tobacco display ban in order to persuade MPs to vote for the legislation.

Christopher Snowdon, author of The Dark Market; How Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the Department of Health Misled MPs about the Tobacco Display Ban, studied emails made available under Freedom of Information rules to show how DH arrived at the figure of £200 subsequently used by MPs and peers to downplay the impact of the ban on stores.

Snowdon found that in April last year, Phil Beder, a director of Canadian shopfitter 4 Solutions Display, told Deborah Arnott of the DH-funded anti-smoking group ASH that the figure his company had given "does not include shipping, installation or specific changes or dimensions" and was based on an order of 1,500 temporary units.

"Single shop all-in-costs estimates including the above specifications is approximately £450 for a normal single gantry," Beder added.

The report concludes: "Retailers have consistently argued that the cost of compliance will be in the thousands, and ASH's original source at 4 Solutions Display has disowned the figures being bandied around in Parliamentary debates. It is extraordinary, therefore, that the DH continues to base cost estimates on these figures.

"Given the concern expressed by MPs about the financial impact on small shopkeepers, it is likely many would have voted against the legislation had they known the full story of how the costings were distorted.

"However, as the law has not yet come into force, there is still time for a balanced and evidence-based debate on the issue."