Selling tobacco in plain packs is the lesser of two legislative evils when compared with a costly and disruptive display ban, retailers have told Convenience Store.

Speculation has been growing that the deeply unpopular ban would be traded off for plain packaging, fuelled by the fact that no mention of the ban was made at the launch of the government's Health White Paper, despite its first implementation date being less than 10 months away.

Instead, health secretary Andrew Lansley spoke only of his intention to "look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be an effective way to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking and trying to quit".

"A display ban would be worse. With plain packaging it would be easier for us to carry on the same without making major changes. However, I don't believe that either option would really achieve what the government wants." Kishor Patel Nisa Local, Houghton Regis Bedfordshire
"I would be pretty happy if they decided to adopt plain packaging as opposed to the tobacco display ban as it wouldn't cost me anything upfront to implement" 
Manny Patel Manny's, Long Ditton, Surrey 

"Dropping the display ban would be a positive step, but plans to look at plain packaging worry me. I sell more than 300 different tobacco products and it would be a nightmare if they all looked the same." Debbie Corris Jim Ingram's, Whitstable, Kent
Although concerned that plain packaging would exacerbate the illicit tobacco trade by making it even easier for criminals to counterfeit packs, retailers are united in believing that this option would be less damaging to trade than a display ban.

Arjan Mehr of Londis Bracknell described the plain packaging option as "no big deal" compared with a display ban.

He said: "A display ban would be far worse. There are numerous issues in addition to the cost of implementation, such as the length of time that a gantry can stay open for a requested display, and what the implications are of leaving it open for too long.

"Plain packaging is no big deal. We'd have to go through some training regarding identifying packs, but we'd get the hang of it."

Dean Holborn of Holborn's in South Nutfield, Surrey, added: "If I had to choose between the two I would much rather that the government moved to put tobacco products in plain packets rather than implement a display ban, which would cost me a lot of money to implement. However, plain packaging would still present us with some challenges; it might take longer to serve customers and could exacerbate the illicit trade."

Meanwhile, independent retailer Debbie Corris of Jim Ingram's in Whitstable, Kent, berated the government for its failure to clarify the situation.

"As an independent shopkeeper, I am dismayed that the coalition government has still not announced whether or not they will go ahead with the tobacco display ban."

Read more
Editor’s comment: Is plain packaging a good idea? (25 November 2010)
U-turn on plain packs puts tobacco display ban plan in doubt (24 November 2010)
EU rebuffed as c-stores cling on to hopes for display ban u-turn (13 November 2010)
Tobacco display ban to be delayed (11 November 2010)