In the week Scotland delayed the introduction of a tobacco display ban, The Grocer has learned that a delay in England is also likely.

A senior lobbyist revealed that a decision to delay the ban south of the border was imminent.

"We thought we were close to reaching an agreement with government several times over the past few months and were expecting an announcement before Christmas," he said.

What was still uncertain was whether a delay would prompt a full review of the ban or simply give retailers more time to make the necessary changes to their stores.

Their lack of readiness presented further evidence that a ban could be on the cards, said experts. Many independents with larger stores have not yet prepared for the necessary changes in-store should larger stores have to go dark in October as the law currently requires.

One senior director at a tobacco company said he had little engagement so far with the supermarkets on how stores and ranges would change.

"Maybe they aren't convinced the ban is going to happen," he said. "If there is a ban it's likely that space will be an issue in-store and there will be range rationalisation. But we haven't reached that stage yet with retailers."

The Association of Convenience Stores called on the government to put an end to the confusion surrounding the ban as soon as possible.

"The October deadline is fast approaching," said ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan. "There is a real danger this ban could be brought in by indecision."

A delay south of the border would be more dramatic than the Scottish one as it would represent a change in government thinking.

The Scottish government said it had been forced to delay the ban's introduction because it could not guarantee that an ongoing judicial review initiated by Imperial Tobacco would be over by October, when the ban was due to come into force.