With less than five months before the tobacco display ban is introduced in small stores, retailers are being urged to act now in order to avoid steep fines for non-compliance.

While the government is encouraging local councils to take an “educational and advisory approach” to enforcement in the first few weeks following the 6 April deadline, store owners or sales assistants found guilty of breaking the new law in a magistrates’ court ultimately face fines of up to £5,000, up to six months in jail or both.

If found guilty in a Crown Court retailers could face a prison sentence of up to two years, or a fine, or both.

The weeks prior to the ban were likely to be “extremely busy for providers of compliance solutions” so retailers who were not having their gantry alterations funded by the tobacco manufacturers should “act now and avoid short-term measures to cover up their gantries,” chief executive James Lowman said.

He added: “Plan now to install long term, professional compliance solutions.”

Imperial Tobacco head of UK corporate and legal affairs Duncan Cunningham also stressed the need for greater collaboration between retailers and law enforcement agencies to help small stores prepare for the ban.

Norfolk retailer Nigel Dowdney said he had not “heard a dickie bird” from his local trading standards officers.

Nigel, who secured JTI funding for his Earlham store’s tobacco gantry but not for his store in Stalham, is planning to construct his own solution from magnetic fly-screen material. “It’s only costing me £100 and will be just as compliant as some of the other professional solutions out there.

“In fact, I’m confident that it might look better than the plain grey doors the tobacco manufacturers are fitting. I plan to ‘go dark’ in January so my staff have time to get used to the new processes, although I understand that my JTI gantry doors won’t be added until a month before the ban.”

Jamie Keshwara, who owns two Nisa stores in Cambridgeshire, is considering a vending solution and as C-Store went to press was about to embark on a trip to Ireland to see the machines in action.

JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn also urged retailers to think beyond the physical changes that must be made to gantries.

“There will be a number of changes to the way retailers must serve customers in order to remain compliant,” he said. “Post-retail display ban, it will be illegal to open the gantry to anyone under the age of 18 and ID must be requested prior to opening the tobacco gantry. Don’t wait for the ban to happen, be prepared,” he added.