By Alex Stevenson
MPs have voted in favour of banning the display of tobacco products in shops in Britain, a move condemned by opponents as "unnecessary and unjustified".
The vote came as the health bill worked its way through the Commons. An additional measure - banning the sale of tobacco from vending machines - was also passed. As a new clause it will have to go back to the Lords to be voted on.
Anti-smoking campaigners have hailed the move as the most significant step forward in public health since smokefree legislation, arguing children will now be fully protected from marketing strategies employed by the tobacco industry.
Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association (TMA), pointed to a Populus survey which showed 64 per cent of respondents agreed a ban would not stop those under the legal age from starting to smoke.
"We are very disappointed that the government has not taken into account evidence provided by key stakeholders that a display ban would create serious unintended consequences," he said.
"For example, we believe that organised crime will exploit the ban. The regulations will make it easier for rogue traders to hide and sell illicit, unregulated tobacco products."
These concerns were brushed over by anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash). Its chief executive Deborah Arnott said: "The tobacco industry has done everything it can to frighten small shops into thinking this will be the end for their business. This is simply not true."
The Department of Health is now consulting on how to implement the regulations. Larger shops in England will have to comply by 2011 while smaller shops will have until 2013.