DON'T GET CAUGHT OUT As our exclusive survey shows, packs featuring the new duty paid mark have already found their way on to the shelves of independent stores around the country. And, despite complaints about a lack of information, the overwhelming majority of retailers are well informed about the government's initiative (see survey below). From next April, all the cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco supplied by manufacturers will feature the mark on either the tear strip or on the back of the pack. Pipe tobacco and cigars are not affected by the new regulations, which come into force on July 1. From that date, it will be an offence for any retailer to sell or display tobacco or cigarettes that do not bear the mark. Be warned: retailers caught breaking the rules can be fined up to £5,000 and banned from selling tobacco for up to six months. And Customs say their officers will be carrying out checks on retailers to ensure they are fully compliant. If they appear keen, that's because the government sees the duty mark as an important weapon in the war against smugglers ­ although a majority of retailers doubt it will have any impact. The good news for retailers is that because new stocks are already being supplied by manufacturers, they should have plenty of time in which to sell any packs that don't bear the duty paid logo. The secret, of course, will be ensuring that all old packs are sold before July 1 ­ with the most critical period for stock control and rotation coming after March 2001. Manufacturers are making life easier by introducing differently coloured or specially identified outlets for products bearing the new mark, thus allowing wholesalers and retailers to better manage their stocks. Gallaher has gone a stage further by introducing new barcodes for packs bearing the duty paid mark. It has also introduced a helpful guide to the new regulations. Clearly, for the next few months there will be a mix of packs in the trade. But retailers are being told not to worry, because there's plenty of time to sell through stock that does not bear the duty paid mark. There's still one area of confusion, however. Customs seem to think retailers will be able to return any stock that doesn't bear the mark between April and July. Wholesalers clearly believe it's the retailer's responsibility to sell off old stock and will not take it back. So the message is simple: get organised before July 1 so you don't land yourselves in trouble. {{NEWS }}