Scotland has joined the rest of the UK in banning the display of tobacco products, with smaller stores forced to cover or remove their gantries by 2013.
The Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill will also outlaw cigarette vending machines and introduce a registration scheme for retailers. In a concession to pressure from retailers, it makes it an offence for adults to buy cigarettes on behalf of children.
The decision was attacked by Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) chief executive John Drummond, who said making it an offence for anyone under 18 to attempt to purchase tobacco and criminalising the proxy purchase of tobacco by adults would assist in creating a culture change.
“Together with the increase in the legal age to purchase tobacco and effective measures to tackle the illegal trade, these measures would have made the display ban unnecessary,” he added.
Drummond also warned that the ban was “more likely to increase young people’s fascination with tobacco,” a fear shared by Glasgow retailer Fiona Barrett.: "Young people will still take up smoking for the same reason they always have: because they are not supposed to," she said. "If the Government thinks that young people are not going to take up smoking because tobacco is hidden out of sight in shops, then they are living in cloud cuckoo land."
Fiona added: "Corner shopkeepers across Scotland will now have to refit their shops to comply with this decision, at a significant cost to small businesses which are already struggling in these economically hard times. What’s more, we’ll go on losing money as our valuable customers are displaced from small shops to larger stores and black market sources.
"It’s a huge burden on Scotland’s smallest businesses and there is no evidence to prove it will have any positive effect on youth smoking – it’s a gimmick at our expense.”
Trade bodies also accused Public Health Minister Shona Robison of misleading MSPs over the cost to retailers of enforcing the ban. In a written answer on January 13, Robison said The National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) had estimated the cost of gantry modification in Scotland to be ‘as little as £20’.
NFRN National President Suleman Khonat said: “The Minister has misquoted us. If the Scottish regulations follow the complexity of the English regulations we anticipate the cost to retailers to be about £1,500.”
Drummond added: “The technical challenges in fitting a solution to existing units to meet the Ministers’ demands could be extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive for small retailers.”