Retailers risk huge fines because the government has passed the responsibility for educating them about the tobacco display ban to cash-strapped local councils, industry leaders have warned.

With less than five months to go until the biggest ever changes to tobacco retailing, the government is yet to issue any advice.

Last week the Department of Health (DoH) released a statement from public health minister Jane Ellison urging retailers to prepare for 6 April – but it only pointed them in the direction of local trading standards and trade bodies.

It said local authorities were “best placed” to educate retailers, but when RN contacted 12 of the UK’s biggest local authorities, only one was able to tell us that it had been in touch directly with shopkeepers.

Trade bodies have pointed out they receive no funding to help the government implement its policies.

The lack of any co-ordinated advice has led to accusations that the government runs the risk of leaving retailers unprepared for the legislation and open to fines of up to £5,000.

“This is an abdication of responsibility on an industrial scale,” said the NFRN’s head of public affairs and communications Adrian Roper. “Retailers are being referred to their trade bodies without any thought as to whether they are even members, not to mention the fact that trade bodies aren’t receiving any public funding.”

Imperial Tobacco head of corporate and legal affairs Duncan Cunningham said the government had been “slow to act”.

This is an abdication of responsibility on an industrial scale

“If the government is going to continue to enforce new legislation on retailers it should be proactive, not reactive, in its communication of these changes,” he said.

Of the local authorities contacted, only Croydon Council has so far sought to educate retailers, holding workshops with more than 200 shopkeepers since April.

In response to a series of questions, the DoH said it planned to work with cash and carry outlets to display updated legislation and update online advice.

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