Ridiculous - Norwich newsagent’s verdict on cigarette law changes

Shop owners in Norwich say they do not believe government plans to stop tobacco being displayed in shops will cut smoking – and they fear for the future of their businesses.

Under new legislation announced on national No Smoking Day yesterday only temporary cigarette displays in 'certain limited circumstances' will be allowed rather than the current behind-counter displays.

The Department of Health's Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Tobacco Control Plan for England aims to bring a drop in the proportion of adults smoking to 18.5pc or less by the end of 2015, from 21.2pc at present. It also plans to cut smoking rates among 15-year-olds from 15pc to 12pc and among pregnant women from 14pc to 11pc.

About 2,000 deaths in Norfolk every year are smoking related but, since April last year, 6,929 people in NHS Norfolk's area have set a quit date and of these 3,605 have successfully stopped smoking.

Dr Jenny Harries, joint director of public health for NHS Norfolk and Norfolk County Council, thinks the new plans are a step in the right direction to reducing smoking rates further.

She said: 'Smoking is the largest single risk factor for an early death. We know most adult smokers started smoking when they were younger, and we are hopeful banning tobacco displays in shops – and suggested changes in cigarette packaging – will prevent young people taking up the habit.'

But shopkeepers are not convinced the new legislation will stop people smoking – and one flagged up another concern.

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Peter Dunn, owner of P&S News in Reepham Road in Hellesdon, who kicked his 40-a-day habit 22 years ago, said: 'The problem I can see is there will be people in the shop and the person behind the counter will have to bend down to get the cigarettes and that leaves the shop open to abuse.

'I think it could create a major problem with shoplifters. It's ridiculous, and I don't think it will stop people smoking either. If people want to smoke then they will.'

Diane Mazzoni, of Mazonni Newsagents in Gordon Avenue, Thorpe St Andrew, who isn't a smoker, is worried about the precedent the changes set.

She said: 'Why don't they do the same for alcohol? At least when people are smoking 40 or 50 a day they are not going bananas on Prince of Wales Road as people do when they've been drinking.

'But then I lost a friend recently who only smoked about five a day, so it all comes down to people's will power I suppose. I don't think this will make much of a difference.'

Garry Steel, owner of the Strike it Lucky shop in Corbett Avenue in Sprowston, thought similarly, saying: 'What's next? Alcohol? Chocolate?

'Times are hard enough for shopkeepers and this is going to hurt small stores. They know people are still going to come in and if we still sell cigarettes people will still buy them.

'It's getting people in the shop for us that's important, the margin on cigarettes isn't much anyway, because most of it is tax, it's when they buy a pack of chewing gum or something that we make money.

'But at the end of the day smoking is bad for you and it is in decline, and since they changed the law to having to be 18 to smoke I don't get school kids trying to buy cigarettes any more, so that did work.'

The rules will be phased in to minimise the impact on businesses, with the regulations coming into force for large stores on April 6, 2012 and on April 6, 2015 for all other shops.

For details of stop smoking services in Norfolk, visit www.norfolk.nhs.uk, call Smokefree Norfolk on 0800 0854 113 or email stop.smoking@norfolk.nhs.uk

Do you think reducing the visibility of cigarettes in shops will have an impact? Write to Letters, Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk