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LONDON -- The Department of Health announced a ban on openly displaying tobacco products in shops today. The Tobacco Control Plan, unveiled on England's national No Smoking Day, rules that supermarkets and large stores must comply by April 2012 and smaller shops by 2015. The ban is intended to combat young people picking up the habits and help smokers who are trying to quit avoid relapses, said the government.
"Smoking is undeniably one of the biggest and most stubborn challenges in public health. Over eight million people in England still smoke and it causes more than 80,000 deaths each year," said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in a prepared statement.
Under the new rule, all tobacco products must be kept out of sight with only temporary displays in "certain limited circumstances" permitted, said the Department of Health. The ban will be phased in to allow retailers time to adjust.
In addition to the display ban, the Tobacco Control Plan includes plans to study the impact of packaging and an examination of ways to "reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging." Last year the government said it was considering requiring plain packaging for tobacco products.
Tobacco companies such as Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco plan to challenge the ban with a judicial review due next month. "We are disappointed the government didn't properly consider the views of the tens of thousands of smaller retailers nationwide who are worried about costly shop refits, losing trade to big supermarkets and the black market, especially against a backdrop of tough economic times," said a spokesman for BAT.
Advocacy groups for store owners have also protested the ban. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents labeled the ban a "betrayal of our nation of shopkeepers." The Association of Convenience Stores said that there "isn't the evidence to suggest that the measure will reduce smoking amongst young people" and predicted an additional £40 million ($64.9 million) in costs to small retailers.