Small retailers should move with the times and devote premium space to other products, says Professor Gerard Hastings

There has been a lot of debate about the impact on businesses of removing point-of-sale tobacco displays.

In reality, far from harming small shops, this legislation will help them move their businesses forward. Small shops succeed because they provide good, personalised service that meets the needs of their customers and local communities.

Customers are important for obvious reasons, and increasing footfall is a key concern. Community support is equally important, however, because small shops draw 60% of their custom from people living within 440 yards of the outlet (Convenience Store, 2007).

Far from helping proprietors meet these twin needs of pleasing their customers and their communities, the tobacco gantries that are currently such a feature in small shops actually hinder them.

PoS displays don't increase footfall, because they only become visible once the customer is inside: a signpost is useless if you only see it once you reach your destination.

Even inside the shop, a tobacco display serves little purpose because less than 7% of smokers make their purchase decision in store (Cancer Research UK, 2008). Indeed, a good shopkeeper knows this - and will often have their customer's brand out and ready for them by the time they reach the counter. This knowledge and personal service is one of their key competitive advantages: it is where independent retailers can challenge the supermarkets.

Large gantries also waste a good business opportunity, because the margins on tobacco are relatively low when compared with other products. Smokers matter to small shops not so much for their tobacco buying as for their impulsive secondary purchases - the chocolate bars, batteries and newspapers that are bought alongside the cigarettes. It therefore makes much better business sense to devote the premium sales space currently given over to tobacco (which, remember, the smoker decided to buy before they even came into the shop) to displaying these discretionary products.

The only tobacco purchases displays are likely to promote will come from the would-be quitter, who falls off the wagon when confronted with an evocative array of their favourite drug, or from children tempted to chance it, given the proximity of such a helpful visual aid. Displays, therefore, undermine good intentions and harm children. Small shopkeepers risk doing their reputations enormous harm if they fall into the tobacco industry's trap and inadvertently become the cheerleaders for such unscrupulous marketing.

Finally, any successful business has to look forward, to plan strategically for future opportunities and not cling on to outmoded needs and markets. The reality is that Britain is moving away from tobacco; a British Medical Association report last year predicted the habit would vanish altogether in a generation.

Far from opposing this legislation, small shops need to welcome it. It will increase their competitive advantage over the supermarkets at a time when the market dominance of superstores threatens the very existence of independent retailers .

Banning tobacco displays will enhance small shops' business efficiency - and openly supporting it will reinforce their community credentials.

Professor Gerard Hastings is director of the Institute of Social Marketing and the Centre for Tobacco Control Research.