Tobacco groups seek to challenge UK display ban

A shopkeeper reaches for a packet of cigarettes in an off licence shop in London April 19, 2009. BPhotograph taken on April 19, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s three biggest cigarette makers are to challenge through the courts an impending ban on the display of tobacco products at retailers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and British American Tobacco said on Monday they are to seek a judicial review of the relevant sections of the Health Act 2009, in which the UK government is looking to impose the display ban to discourage smoking.

Imperial, which makes Lambert & Butler and Richmond cigarettes in the UK, said there is no evidence to suggest children start smoking or that adult smokers continue to smoke as a result of the display of tobacco products.

“If this misguided legislation is implemented it will simply fuel the growth in the illicit trade of tobacco and create a huge cost burden for retailers who are already under considerable pressure as a result of the difficult economic climate,” said Chief Executive Gareth Davis in a statement.

JTI, which took over Gallaher in 2007 and makes Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes in the UK, called the regulations “unreasonable and disproportionate” and said it had no option but to start the legal process to challenge the ban.

BAT, which makes Rothmans and Pall Mall cigarettes, added there was no evidence to show the move will cut smoking rates in the UK, but argued it would damage competition and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of small businesses.

It said driving legal trade from public view will encourage illegal traders.

The Health Act 2009 requires cigarettes, cigars, pipe and roll-your own tobacco products to be hidden from view in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from October 2011 in large retailers and from October 2013 in smaller outlets.

Scotland is pushing its own banning legislation through its own parliament.

Reporting by David Jones; Editing by David Holmes