The tobacco industry has slammed an Action on Smoking and Health report endorsing bans on tobacco displays and branding and reiterated its warning that display bans in shops would boost illegal trade.

Published a week after graphic warnings started appearing on cigarette packs, Beyond Smoking Kills called for a ban on tobacco displays and claimed lighter-coloured packaging fooled young people into thinking certain tobacco products were less harmful.

Young people were three to four times less likely to pick a plain pack as a branded one if lighting up for the first time, it added. Tobacco industry chiefs were quick to criticise the proposals, which support those made in the Department of Health’s recent consultation on tobacco control.

“Putting tobacco off display is going to increase the likelihood that people would turn to illegal and counterfeit tobacco,” said Federation of Wholesale Distributors director general John Murphy in response to the ASH report.

Shane Brennan, director of public affairs at the Association of Convenience Stores, agreed. “We’re opposed to a display ban and believe it will cost thousands of pounds for a retailer to comply,” he said. “We don’t believe just seeing a product on the shelf causes increased smoking.”

A Gallaher spokesman said plain packaging had been considered but rejected as a potential regulatory measure in Canada and Australia. “There is no reliable evidence to suggest it will lead to a reduction in youth smoking uptake,” he added.

Elsewhere, HMRC has stepped up its fight to stamp out the illegal trade in handrolling tobacco. Since October 1, all pouch tobacco has had to feature covert security markings, which can be identified using a handheld reader.