Forcing cigarettes under the counter could fuel the illicit trade and threaten the livelihood of retailers.

That’s the warning from trade associations and tobacco manufacturers in their responses to the Department of Health’s consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control, which includes plans to ban the display of tobacco products in stores and to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes in a bid to stop children from smoking.

The consultation closed this week, with a flurry of responses from across the industry. The responses were quick to attack the government’s plans as “hugely anti-competitive” and a “serious absence of government joined-up thinking”, warning there could be “serious unintended consequences” for tobacco retailers.

Pushing tobacco under the counter would undermine public health policy and law and order and threaten the livelihoods of tobacco retailers, Imperial Tobacco said. A display ban would make the distribution of illicit products easier, it warned in its response, adding that if legal products were hidden from view, it would make it more difficult for retailers, customers and enforcement officers to distinguish between legal and illegal products.

Retailers could also be put off from selling tobacco and if the number of retailers legitimately selling tobacco were reduced, illicit sales channels could replace them, it argued.

The Government should instead focus its efforts on tackling the counterfeit trade, said the Federation of Wholesale Distributors. “In our view, reducing the illegal trade would help greatly to reduce the prevalence of smoking generally, and by underage smokers in particular,” the FWD response said.

Introducing plain packaging could also lead to delays at tills because it would be more difficult for retailers to identify products, Imperial Tobacco added. Customer service would be affected and retailers could be forced to employ more staff to keep down queues.