Northern Ireland retailers have labelled the government’s announcement on the impending tobacco display ban as “progress”.

Health minister Edwin Poots said the display ban regulations would not commence until spring 2012 at the earliest. He also hopes to introduce regulations banning sales of tobacco products from vending machines by February 1, 2012. Poots said retailers would be informed of the final date as soon as possible to allow for store adaptations to be made.

He also announced amendments to the draft legislation to bring it more in line with regulations in England and Wales. They include increasing the size of the gantry from 0.75m to 1.5m and allowing for easier restocking of shelves.

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts said the announcement was “common sense” as stores would need time to plan for the changes. “Given that we are in a recession, the cost of modifying a store can be quite expensive, in some cases up to £5,000, and retailers need to be able to budget for this,” he said.