Retailers in the Republic of Ireland are being hit with tough new restrictions on the display and sale of cigarettes while the "grey market" operated by smugglers continues to thrive, according to one leading tobacco company.

The latest curbs, which include a ban on the public display of tobacco products, removal of all PoS signage and a retailers' register, were unfair and would cause "huge upheaval" in the trade, said Deirdre Healy, corporate affairs manager with John Player & Sons.

Yet smuggled cigarettes accounted for 18% of the market, representing a major loss to retailers, manufacturers and the Irish exchequer, she added.

Although consultation on the proposals ends this weekend, health minister Mary Harney said the new curbs would not be changed and submissions should be confined to how soon retailers could implement them.

Anyone caught breaching the laws would be issued with an on-the-spot three-month suspension from selling tobacco.

"It may be an inadvertent breach, but the business may not survive the suspension," said president of the Irish Convenience Stores' and Newsagents' Association Philip Keegan. "We need a fairer system, with all the circumstances taken into account."