Tobacco retailers are facing defeat in their battle against a display ban on cigarettes with the Government set to press ahead with the controversial measure.

The Department of Health will announce today that cigarettes will be brought ‘under the counter’ in a move that will cause dismay among small retailers.

However, the Government has backed away from proposals to strip cigarettes of their branding and leave packs featuring only health warnings and the maker’s name.

The health secretary has also pledged to help businesses deal with the impact of the ban, which was not included in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

“We know that business has been resisting this but there are times when the consumer's interest must outweigh that,” a source at the business department told The Daily Telegraph. “We believe the public are with us on this move [and] we have asked smokers' views on this too. There is no doubt that the vast majority want to quit.”

The move is likely to raise fears over a surge in illegal tobacco imports. In November Whitehall announced plans for a crackdown on smuggled tobacco, although industry figures are worried its efforts could be undermined by the display ban.