Convenience retailers have until 2013 to meet the requirements of a ban on the display of tobacco products, introduced part of a government crackdown on youth smoking.
The news, announced by health secretary Alan Johnson, provoked a storm of protest from retailers, and opposition leaders who claim that a ban would harm small businesses during the economic downturn.
In an attempt to appease his critics, Johnson said the big supermarkets would be the first to remove their displays in 2011, followed by convenience stores and smaller outlets in 2013. This, he said would give them time to plan and prepare for the change.
He also dismissed claims that the cost of changing shop layouts to accommodate the ban would be “horrendous”, claiming that in Canada the cost was about £500 per store.
Commenting on the ban, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said there was “little evidence” that the proposal would achieve its aim. “If the government were serious about tackling problems associated with tobacco, they would address black market sales and nicotine addiction,” he said.
Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary Norman Lamb, added that the move was an example of the “nanny state going too far”.
“The Government is obsessed with headline-grabbing gimmicks instead of tackling the real problems. Buying tobacco for children must be made a criminal offence. Ministers also need to clamp down on the shockingly high amount of tobacco that is smuggled illegally into this country,” he said.
Johnson has however, ditched plans for a ban on cigarettes in packs of less than 20 and proposals for plain packaging.
In total, more than 96,000 responses were submitted to the consultation on The Future Of Tobacco Control. Independent retailers made up 10,586 of these.