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“Now you see it, now you don’t” is normally the conjuror’s stock in trade. However, Health Secretary Alan Johnson seems capable of sleight of hand in a government attempt to drive tobacco products off display in shops.

Although the Federation of Wholesale Distributors is in general agreement with the government’s programme to curb smoking, we see forcing cigarettes to be sold from the under the counter as a step too far when the law of the land says the product is a legal one.

The argument that colourful display gantries provoke children into wanting to buy the cigarettes they hold, seems spurious to say the least. They are far more likely to succumb to peer pressure or just plain curiosity, I would suggest.

The Department of Health is bringing forward a package of new measures against smoking for consultation, but Mr Johnson seems to have already made up his mind. He praised moves by the Scottish government to ban cigarettes on display north of the border recently. He said: “I think they are right to do that and we are considering that as well.”

The purpose of a consultation, of course, is for the legislators to listen to the views of all parties concerned before coming to a decision. The indications are that the Department of Health may try to railroad this one through heedless of the voices against.

The consequences of such a pre-emptive move might well come back to haunt this government as have some others in recent weeks.

The main arguments that FWD will make is that this will simply play into the hands of the smugglers and counterfeiters, while at the same time damaging legitimate retailers by imposing costs of thousands of pounds to pay for the shop fitting changes required.

In complete contrast, a consultation has just been issued by the Food Standards Agency looking for more on display rather than less. This one seeks our view on its proposals to establish a uniform “Scores on the Door” scheme across the UK.

The intention is to agree a system that shows consumers how well all food businesses are complying with food hygiene regulations. It covers wholesalers as well as retailers and caterers.

Various schemes are already in operation with some 183 local authorities in England out of 355 already posting results on the Internet. So far, it is not mandatory to display these results outside a food business’s premises – yet!

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