Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International are launching a judicial review against the tobacco display ban.

The companies today revealed their intention to commence the legal challenge, claiming the Health Act 2009 and accompanying display regulations for England are unreasonable and disproportionate.

Silk Cut maker JTI, which bought Gallaher in 2007, said the process that led to the display ban - and the ban itself – did not comply with Better Regulations principles.

“Despite the fact that public policy must be based upon clear evidence and sound research, the UK government has failed to provide such support to justify the display ban,” said JTI UK managing director Daniel Torras.

“There is no credible evidence that hiding cigarette packs from view at retail outlets will achieve the objective of further reducing youth smoking.”

Imperial’s UK chief executive, Gareth Davis, added: "Banning the display of tobacco products is a further example of the government's unreasonable and disproportionate approach to regulating tobacco.”

The companies have been considering the challenge to the ban, which is due to come into force for supermarkets next year and 2013 for smaller stores, for several months.

In February Imperial Tobacco said it was looking into a judicial review, after its vending machine subsidiary Sinclair Collis launched action into the legality of banning tobacco vending machines.

Reacting to the legal challenge, the Association of Convenience Stores has written to ministers calling on them to delay the planned implementation dates.

The body said the prolonged uncertainty had made it impossible for retailers to prepare for the changeover of thousands of shops to fit the new regulations.

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Tobacco display ban faces Lord's challenge (Convenience Store; 30 March 2010)