The small stores industry looks set to remain in the dark about plans for a UK-wide tobacco display ban for a few more weeks.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley failed to shed any further light on the issue at the launch of a radical Public Health White Paper yesterday. But he said the government was “still considering options for the display of tobacco in shops, recognising the need to take action both to reduce tobacco consumption and reduce burdens on business".

However, the continued delay makes it increasingly likely that plans will not go ahead in the format or timescale originally proposed, if at all.

Lansley did, however, express a desire to move tobacco products into plain packaging, but stressed the need for evidence that such a move would result in a public health benefit.

“The government wants to make it easier for people to make healthier choices, but we will clearly need to make sure that there is good evidence to demonstrate that plain packaging would have a public health benefit, as well as carefully exploring the competition, trade, and legal implications of the policy,” he said.

Further details on how the government plans to proceed with plans for plain packaging, and the display ban, will be set out in a new Tobacco Control Plan to be launched “in the winter of 2010/11”, Lansley added.

Criticising the government's position, ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Retailers are being treated disgracefully by ministers, they have waited months for a straight answer and yet again none has been given. Before the election the current ministers were very clear in their opposition to tobacco displays and they have been reviewing their position ever since they came into government. 

"Thousands of shops currently have little more than 10 months before they will have to comply with a ban, and yet have no clarity around how they should comply."