Ministers must put c-store operators out of their misery and reveal exactly where they stand on the proposed ban on retail tobacco displays

Proof that silence really can be deafening was readily available this week. With only eight months to go before large stores are supposed to shroud their tobacco gantries, we have yet to hear anything definite from the Westminster government about how, or even whether, the display ban will proceed.

In opposition, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs either opposed the ban or pledged that it would be reviewed once they got into power. But so far silence. The recent launch of the White Paper on health was a good opportunity to explain the position on the display ban, but even that opportunity came and went without a definitive ruling. And there is still no word about the new government’s wider strategy on tobacco.

What we want

A clear statement from the government on whether the tobacco display ban is going to go ahead or not If more time is needed to gather conclusive evidence either way, then a delay should be announced immediately Convenience Store remains opposed to the ban, and is urging the government to realise that it is a bad piece of legislation that will produce high costs and zero benefits

One thing is certain, however, and that is that key figures within the government are now more aware of the cost and disruption that a display ban will cause to small businesses. The campaigning efforts of retailers, trade associations and C-Store are also helping to alert an ever increasing number of ministers to the fact that there is no evidence that display bans reduce youth smoking, and therefore there is no benefit to offset the cost.

Perhaps this explains the delay, as the business and health-focused ministerial portfolios clash behind closed doors. But that is no help to the small business community increasingly under pressure from a rising tide of regulation.

The ministerial waverings are making the health lobby twitchy. In December an organisation called the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies released the results of findings which showed that the number of teenagers who recalled having seen tobacco gantries in stores dropped after the display ban was introduced in Ireland. Well, no big surprise there, really.

Interestingly, however, buried at the bottom of the report was the concession by Professor McNeill that a year-and-a-half on, the implementation of the law had still not resulted in a decline in smoking prevalence. Ministers would do well to take note of this, alongside the fact that in Great Britain gantries are not automated like their Irish counterparts.

What you can do

Contact your local MP Tell them that a display ban threatens the ongoing profitability of your business Point out that there is no evidence that a display ban would be an effective way of preventing youngsters from starting to smoke.

One thing is absolutely clear, however. If the government is not yet ready to show its hand on tobacco control, the display ban should be immediately delayed, if not scrapped altogether. The Association of Convenience Stores and British Retail Consortium have said as much in a letter sent to government ministers this week.

But the industry can’t leave the fighting all up to the trade associations. The policy void means that advocates for the ban are becoming active again, so you need to talk again to your local MP about the display ban, and raise the concerns that you have about implementing it in your store, to redress the balance. So go on, break the silence.