A BAN on tobacco displays in shops would benefit black market traders at the expense of legitimate businesses, it is claimed.
More than 80 per cent of corner shopkeepers in the north west believe that trade in dodgy tobacco would increase if such a step was taken.
The results of The Economic Research Survey come as the government is considering a move to ban all tobacco displays in shops in a bid to reduce smoking among the young.
Solly Khonat, north west spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance and a shopkeeper himself, said: “If you take away the right of all retailers to display tobacco, it’s going to be the corner shopkeepers who are hit hardest.
“If smokers aren’t aware a shop sells tobacco they are going to be all the more tempted to get it from car boot sales or sellers on street corners.
“Why wouldn’t they - when smugglers can sell at half the price that I can?
“If they force us to sell it from under the counter, they are forcing the whole trade under the counter and sales of dodgy tobacco will only increase.”
The survey found that 57 per cent of shopkeepers in the north west are aware of smuggled tobacco being sold in their area.
And more worryingly, 47 per cent of these say they know of smugglers supplying underage smokers.
Mr Khonat said: “Young people don’t take up smoking because they see cigarette packs on display.
“They start smoking because of peer pressure and because they want to look older than they are.
“The fact that 47 per cent of those retailers who are aware of smuggling in their area know that the smugglers are selling to under-aged people, should surely tell the government that they should be focusing more on targeting smuggling rather than forcing retailers like me to remove our displays.”
He added: “There is after all, no evidence to prove that a display ban will reduce youth smoking.”
Manchester shopkeeper Mohammed Azam said: “Retailers like me are a vital part of our local communities.
“We need the government to work with us, rather than against us, and tackle the issue of tobacco smuggling head-on.
“That way we can continue to provide the valuable service that we do for our customers.”
Other results of the survey were that 65 per cent of retailers questioned said they believed that reducing or freezing taxes on tobacco would help reduce tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping.
More than 100 MPs, including 50 Labour backbenchers, have so far pledged their support for retailers over the threat to displays.
They claim that such a move would place an unnecessary burden on small businesses while doing nothing to reduce youth smoking rates.
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