The government is under strong pressure to postpone the implementation of the tobacco display ban in England after all three of the UK’s largest tobacco manufacturers and a group of campaigning independent retailers in Leicestershire launched legal challenges.

The action by the UK’s largest tobacco manufacturers – JTI, Imperial Tobacco and BAT – could take more than six months to resolve and, should it succeed in changing the requirements, retailers would have little time to make the necessary changes to their gantries before the ban is enforced in large stores next October and small stores in 2013.

Market leader Imperial Tobacco claimed that the legislation was “unreasonable and disproportionate,” and did not comply with the Better Regulation principles, while JTI additionally argued it would increase the illicit trade. 

BAT, which has a 6% share of the UK cigarette market, said it was also anti-competitive as it would be impossible to inform consumers about new products available for sale.

Ronan Barry, head of legal and corporate at BAT, said: “It is in breach of EU Competition law and would make it impossible for new entrants to come into the UK market.”

The ban is also being challenged by a coalition of retailers from Leicestershire. Jaspal Singh Minhas, president of the Leicestershire Asian Business Association, said the financial costs of the gantry alterations would force many stores to close. “We must have a dialogue with the government to see what alterations can be made to the law,” he added.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has demanded that ministers postpone the ban’s implementation by at least a year because of the legal challenges, which will lead to increased uncertainty for retailers.

“Local shops will suffer the most from the confusion created by this legal uncertainty,” ACS chief executive James Lowman said. “The time frames for implementation were already tight, and now every one of the 60,000-plus shops selling tobacco in the UK will have to put their plans on hold. 

“If the ban gets the go-ahead, the additional time pressure will cause major disruption and rocketing costs.”

The ACS has written to Ministers with its demands and is considering its own legal action on the issue, he added.