Most shopkeepers support existing tobacco laws and want the Government to go further in protecting people’s health, according to a new report.
People running newsagents, off-licences, convenience stores and petrol stations are in favour of more regulation, while many are worried about vaping sales to children, it found.
The charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) commissioned a survey of 961 small tobacco retailers across the UK and shared its results with the PA news agency.
Eight out of 10 (81%) agree there should be a mandatory licence scheme for selling tobacco to prevent sales to children, illegal sales, and to give local authorities more power.
The same proportion also support mandatory age verification for anyone who looks under 25, which the report said would make enforcement in England easier.
Only one in 20 shopkeepers oppose both these measures.
The survey also found that more than half (54%) of retailers think the age for buying tobacco should be raised from 18 to 21.
Meanwhile, 73% support a requirement for tobacco manufacturers to pay a fee to the Government for policies to help people quit and to prevent youngsters taking up smoking.
Asked why they still stock cigarettes and tobacco, 76% of retailers said they want local smokers to keep using their shops, while 51% said the revenue from tobacco products is an important part of their overall profits.
Further questioning revealed that 76% of retailers feel tobacco is important to their business because customers buy another product at the same time.
Although 51% of retailers think that money from tobacco products is an important part of their overall profits, 72% said they do not make much profit on a packet of cigarettes compared with other items.
And only 13% said banning cigarette displays and the introduction of plain packaging had had a negative effect on their business.
Tory MP Bob Blackman, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health, said: “Supporting small businesses is rightly a priority for Government – particularly corner shops, as they are at the heart of our local communities.
“That’s why the main argument used by tobacco manufacturers’ against tobacco regulations with politicians like me is that they would harm small shops.
“Tobacco regulations are supposed to be bad for the manufacturers, but this survey of nearly 1,000 shopkeepers proves they don’t think that regulations like those putting cigarettes out of sight in shops, or in standard packs are bad for retailers.
“Shopkeepers want Government to go further and implement tougher regulations – that’s what they think will be good for business, not de-regulation.”
Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “To achieve a smoke-free 2030, the Government needs to ratchet up regulations to support smokers to quit and to prevent young people starting to smoke.
“Just like the public, the majority of retailers support key measures needed to bring smoking to an end, such as increasing the age of sale, introducing a tobacco licence, and making tobacco manufacturers pay to help smokers quit.
“Retailers aren’t anti-regulation; they know that good regulation can make their lives easier by ensuring there’s a level playing field.
“That’s why they want to see the gaping hole in retail regulation closed through the introduction of a mandatory tobacco licence backed up by stronger penalties for breaking the law.”
John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “A mandatory licence to sell tobacco and age verification for anyone who looks under 25 would make it easier for trading standards to enforce the law, to the benefit of reputable retailers.”
The report found that 71% of retailers support bigger fines for breaking the law, 81% back more regular checks by trading standards, and 79% support closure orders for retailers that repeatedly break laws.
When it comes to e-cigarettes, 51% of retailers said they expect them to become more important to their business in the next decade, but 69% support tighter controls in areas such as colours, cartoon characters and naming e-cigarettes after sweets – all of which appeal to children.
Asked if they are interested in expanding the e-cigarette and vaping side of their business, 36% of the retailers surveyed in England said they are interested and 37% said they are not.
The report concluded: “Government in England should not be deterred from introducing new tobacco control measures because of concerns about their impact on local retailers.
“Among retailers, support for new measures far outweighs opposition, even for measures which will directly affect daily sales of tobacco products including the proposed increase in the age of sale from 18 to 21.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government continues to enforce strong regulations around the sale of cigarettes which help smokers to quit, and protect future generations from starting this lethal habit.
“We are currently considering the wide range of independent recommendations as set out in the Khan Review (published in June), which includes further regulation. We will provide a further update in due course.”