Anti-smoking group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), which was influential in lobbying for tobacco display restrictions on retailers, has said that tackling the illicit trade is to be one of its key priorities going forward.

The group's announcement received a lukewarm welcome from tobacco industry representatives, who believe the display ban will fuel the illegal supply chain.

"We are pleased to note that ASH acknowledges the close co-operation between the UK tobacco manufacturers and law enforcement agencies in tackling the illicit tobacco trade," a spokesman for the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association said. "However, it is regrettable that it supports the fight against illicit trade on the one hand, but on the other campaigns for ineffective measures, such as the ban on the display of tobacco products in shops, which will facilitate illicit trade and have adverse consequences for legitimate businesses."

ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott told Convenience Store: "Price increases through taxation are undermined by the illicit trade, which makes cigarettes available at well below the market price, with no control over who buys them."

A report commissioned by ASH revealed that a third of UK smokers bought tobacco from illicit sources, and that such products accounted for more than 60% of consumption for this group. The report also found that more than 40% of 16- to 24-year-old smokers had bought illicit tobacco products at least once.

"That's why it's so important to tackle the illicit trade," Arnott added.

More details on the regulations surrounding the tobacco display ban, due to be enforced in larger stores next year, are expected to be published this month.