North Walsham shopkeeper angry at tobacco advert laws

A North Walsham shopkeeper who has fallen foul of strict laws on tobacco advertising has hit out at rules which, he says, force him to be 'more in your face' with his cigarette displays than he would like.

Bob White claims he has had to take down about a dozen flat photographs of cigarette packets and tobacco pouches from his Showcase Gallery shop – but has been told he could display countless boxes of the real thing instead.

And a national newsagents' organisation says it is baffled by the trading standards ruling, which followed a visit last week to Mr White's Market Place shop.

Two trading standards officers called at the gift shop and newsagent's after complaints and Mr White was told to remove a sandwich board and signs.

The board, on the pavement outside, advertised 'discounted pouch tobacco'. An A4-size sign in the window offered the same and was illustrated with photos of two brands of tobacco, and there were signs behind and next to the till with photos of all the brands sold in the shop, one of which was at least A3-sized and had price stickers.

Mr White says he was happy to remove the pavement board and the window sign as soon as the officers explained the law.

But he cannot understand why he is allowed to display 'as many 3D packets of cigarettes' as he likes inside the shop, but cannot show 'more discreet' photographs of their box fronts instead.

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Mr White said he had been keeping the actual tobacco shielded by a curtain and out of sight, ahead of stricter rules on advertising which come into force from October 1 for large businesses such as supermarkets, and October 1 2013 for smaller shops.

He said: 'We didn't want to have tobacco screaming at people in the shop. We're trying to look different and have a more inviting environment in here with paintings on the walls, not great ugly displays of cigarettes.

'It's beyond belief. I can't have these paper-thickness photos but I could have rows of tobacco on display in my front counter, right next to the chocolate eggs that the children buy. In this day and age, when people are trying to be more compliant and thinking in advance of the law, I just find it frustrating that red tape gets in the way like this.'

He said the offending A3-sized sign was made up of individual photos joined together.

A spokesman for the National Federation of Retail Newsagents said they were 'extremely puzzled' by the trading standards decision, and could not see why Mr White had done anything wrong, as long as the photos depicted the goods on sale, could be produced on request, and prices were displayed.

She added: 'Anyone buying goods on-line or from a catalogue only gets to see a picture rather than the goods itself, so we wonder why the situation has to be different here.'

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said the law stated that retailers could not advertise tobacco products within their premises other than at point of sale, where advertising was restricted to a single A5-size advert, a third of which must be the health warning.

Maureen Cleall, the council's community safety and investigations team manager, said the officers' visit followed two complaints from members of the public that the store was advertising cheap tobacco.

'One complainant was concerned that the advertising was near the bus stop where students congregate and this advertising would potentially encourage young people to buy tobacco and start smoking,' she said.

'The focus of our visit was to advise the business on what the law says and how to comply. Tobacco advertising is very tightly controlled by legislation. Upon inspection we found the 'advertising' and display in the shop and the sandwich board outside the shop did not comply with the law. The officers explained to the owner that this was illegal.

Ms Cleall added: 'If we find that a retailer is breaking the law we have a duty to intervene.

'Stores can currently display cigarette cartons and tobacco products that are on sale in display counters.'

It is Trading Standards' responsibility to enforce the law to create a level playing field so that it is fair for all retailers.