Newsagents have warned that thousands of small retailers could be forced to close if the Government presses on with plans to drive tobacco under the counter.

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents yesterday met with MPs to raise concerns that the planned display ban could drive smokers away from small shops in favour of the major supermarkets.

“Why is the Government considering introducing something that lacks proven evidence and will only serve to harm our businesses?” said NFRN legal and parliamentary head Colin Finch.

“Nearly 95% of our members believe that it will not make a difference to youth smoking habits.”

A survey of NFRN members found more than three-quarters feared the proposals would damage their business. The body represents 30,000 newsagents and convenience stores in the UK.

Last week the possibility of a ban on branded cigarette packs arose again, as MPs debated a range of measures to combat smoking in the Health Bill.

And the Department of Health was slated by retailers after a briefing document to peers suggested the cost for retailers of implementing a display ban would be £210 at most – in contrast to predictions by the Association of Convenience Stores that the move will cost stores between £1,850 and £5,000.