Driven apparently by the logic “out of sight, out of mind”, the British government on Friday imposed a ban on the display of cigarette packets in shops, saying the move was aimed at discouraging young people from taking to smoking.

Cigarette packets disappeared from supermarket shelves across England and went literally under the counter as the long-threatened ban finally came into force amid fury among smokers who denounced it as yet another “assault” on their freedom on top of the existing ban on public smoking.

Small shops have been spared for now and given three years to refit suitable shelves and counters to “hide” cigarette packets.

The government cited the Irish experience which, it claimed, showed that the measure could help in preventing young people from turning to smoking.

“We cannot ignore the fact that young people are recruited into smoking by colourful, eye-catching, cigarette displays. Most adult smokers started smoking as teenagers and we need to stop this trend,” said Public Health Minister Anne Milton.

No evidence: critics

Critics, however, said there was no evidence from countries where such a ban already existed that it had stopped young people from smoking.

Anti-smoking campaigners welcomed the move saying it would contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

“It's essential that we create a culture that promotes and protects public health and tobacco legislation is a significant factor in making this happen,” said Jo Butcher, of the National Children's Bureau. Cancer Research U.K. went a step further and demanded a ban on branding of cigarette packets as well.

“Of course we want to see the pack branding taken away as well. This is not a normal consumer product, it kills people. We want to protect the next generation of children,” said a spokesperson.

Other countries where display is banned include Canada, Ireland, Iceland and Finland. A move by Scotland to introduce a similar ban has been delayed by protests from tobacco companies.

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