Local shopkeepers fear they could be put out of business over the prospect of a crackdown on the number of stores allowed to sell cigarettes in Scotland.
Areas where smoking rates are high could be targeted as part of a drive to reduce “density clusters” of stores which sell tobacco.
It could be done through a licensing regime or a change in “compliance conditions” to the retail registration scheme, according to a new government blueprint unveiled this week aimed at making Scotland “smoke-free” by 2034. The target would mean fewer than 5 per cent of Scots smoking, compared with 20 per cent at the moment.
But Suleman Khonat, national spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance (TRA), warned the change would see many stores go under.
“Make no mistake, if this measure was introduced it would sound the death knell for corner shops across many parts of Scotland,” he said.
“Removing tobacco sales would make these shops unviable and force their closure, depriving communities of crucial local services.
“Such a policy is totally ignorant of modern consumer behaviour.
“Smokers would simply turn to the black market that would look to take advantage and fill the void created by these forced closures.
“We are also very concerned for the proposals for an enhanced licensing scheme. We believe that the existing tobacco register that’s already in place is perfectively adequate and works well.”
Tobacco sales make up around 30 per cent of an average independent store’s income and it would be difficult for many affected shops to stay open.
The TRA is now preparing to target MSPs and MPs across Scotland as part of a campaign about the potential impact on local economies if the “ill thought-out and misjudged proposals” come into force.
The prospect of a licensing regime raised in the report also goes further than the existing tobacco registration scheme, prompting concerns it would add to the “unnecessary and expensive burdens” already faced by on small business in Scotland.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said there was no evidence to support the alliance’s claims, adding: “This will have a significantly positive impact on Scotland’s health. We are taking a variety of measures to help smokers quit, as two-thirds of all smokers in Scotland want to stop smoking.
“We have no plans to introduce an enhanced licensing scheme for tobacco retail, nor any firm proposals to restrict trade based on density.”