Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 00:05 UK

Tobacco ban 'won't hit business'

cigarettes on sale
The bill will ban tobacco displays in small outlets from 2013

Plans to ban tobacco displays in shops in England and Wales can be implemented without harming small businesses, the new health secretary has said.

Andy Burnham promised MPs he would "find that balance" between cutting smoking among youngsters and minimising the impact on shopkeepers.

But Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the results of similar schemes in Canada were mixed.

Tory MP Philip Davies said the plans were a "triumph of the nanny state".

'Gesture politics'

The health secretary was speaking during a second reading debate on the Health Bill which proposes a ban on displays of tobacco products in shops.

It also proposes age-restriction mechanisms to stop under-18s buying cigarettes from vending machines.

Mr Burnham said ban on displays would not come into force until October 2011 for larger businesses and 2013 for smaller outlets.

"This will allow smaller retailers time to adjust, refitting their shops when older displays are due to be replaced anyway," he added.

"It would never be my intention to make it harder for small retailers to survive, nevertheless we do have to act on the fact that many young people are taking up smoking."

However, he was attacked by MPs from across the House who said businesses would suffer.

Conservative Mark Pritchard said an "unintended consequence" of the Bill was "that we may well see local convenience stores and small shops close".

He added: "Yes, we need health promotion but we also need to bear in mind that most small shop owners are responsible and undertake their duties in a lawful way.

Tobacco is currently a legal product which can be bought by consenting adults and yet we plan to restrict its display even more than we do pornography
Sandra Gidley
Liberal Democrats

His colleague Mr Davies said the measure was "gesture politics of the worst kind" and urged the health secretary to think again.

Labour's David Clelland said there was "no evidence" that countries which had introduced a display ban had witnessed a drop in smoking among young people.

However, former Tory cabinet minister Sir George Young backed the measure, urging Mr Burnham not to "water down" the proposal, and Labour's David Taylor said the "hidden hand" of the tobacco industry was behind attempts to block it.

For the Liberal Democrats, Sandra Gidley said the evidence in support of the ban was "very, very weak", adding: "Tobacco is currently a legal product which can be bought by consenting adults and yet we plan to restrict its display even more than we do pornography."

Mr Lansley called for a free vote on the issue, and repeated calls for the government to make it illegal for adults to buy tobacco for under-18s - as is the case with alcohol.

He also said the proposed NHS constitution was "something that really is not a constitution at all", describing it as a "missed opportunity".

However, Independent MP Dr Richard Taylor said he hoped the constitution would do something about the "awful" state of the NHS.

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