Retailers must make their voices heard when the government launches its consultation into point-of-sale tobacco display next month, or face devastating restrictions, the trade has warned.
Speaking at last week's Convenience Retailing Show, Jeremy Blackburn, communications manager for Gallaher, said the issue could be one of the biggest to affect the industry in years.
"The independent trade could be disproportionately affected by banning point-of-sale display," he said. "Retailers must defend their business by joining in the consultation and telling the government via their local MPs how it would affect them."
Storing tobacco products under the counter would lead to costly store refits and longer queuing times, he said. Store security would also suffer if retailers were forced to bend down to retrieve products.
Imperial Tobacco trade communications manager Iain Watkins agreed. "At the most simple level, restrictions on display of product conflict with a retailer's basic right to show shoppers the range of products that they sell, and their price," he said.
"Now is the time for retailers to take on the baton and express their concerns to the government. The trade can only do so much, and apathy on the part of retailers will come at a huge cost," he added.
Corporate affairs manager Deirdre Healy added: "We accept that tobacco should be regulated, but believe that all regulations should be proportionate and based on evidence."
The government's consultation will be launched in May and is expected to run for three months.
Canada ban falls short
Only half of the 10,000 c-store owners in Ontario, Canada, are likely to be ready in time for the province's ban on displaying cigarettes next month, according to local news reports.
New regulations require stores to hide tobacco displays behind special units by the end of May, but many retailers will be unable to obtain the covers by the deadline, let alone fund the £300-£1,200 cost.
Ontario and Quebec will become the fifth and sixth provinces to 'go dark' at the end of next month, with British Columbia and Alberta expected to follow in summer. In other provinces, retailers are using flags, sheets and shower curtains to hide displays, generally considered unacceptable under the law.