The Department of Health has come in for fierce criticism over a briefing document to peers this week suggesting the cost of implementing a tobacco display ban could be as little as £120 – and £210 at most.

Its estimates fall well short of the Association of Convenience Stores’ prediction that the cost to retailers will be a minimum of £1,850 and could even reach £5,000. This would be 40 times the DH figure, which is also a long way short of the £1,000 estimate published by the Government itself as part of its Regulatory Impact Analysis only last month.

The ACS claims the new DH figure is based on flawed evidence and has been included to undermine suggestions that the impact of a display ban would outweigh the cost to retailers.

The figure is based on an estimate from a Canadian company, 4 Solution Display Corporation, which specialises in covered tobacco displays. The company uses a “cheap” cover with slats that can be attached to existing gantries and can be opened with flaps to access the product.

ACS last week countered the DH note with a briefing document of its own ahead of committee hearings for the proposed Health Bill this week.

The document stated: “The figures quoted are based on conversations with a commercial shopfitting company based in Canada that has no experience of the UK market. DH’s briefing is misleading and inconsistent. Please do not accept its suggestion that this measure will be easily affordable when deciding on this matter.”

ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan went even further. “If the Government thinks this is the right measure and is worth paying for then say it,” he said. “But don’t try and suggest it is going to cost less than it actually is.”

Last week the PM of New Zealand John Key scrapped plans for a display ban after finding no evidence of its effectiveness in cutting smoking while putting a disproportionate financial burden on retailers.