A tobacco black market will ignite throughout the West Midlands if shops are banned from displaying cigarettes, it is claimed.
Around 70 per cent of corner shopkeepers fear supplies of contraband tobacco will flood the market if stringent new measures are introduced.
Shopkeepers say a ban on tobacco gantries in stores would simply increase the number of smokers getting tobacco from the black market.
The findings come as the new coalition government considers whether to revoke the display ban legislation, forced through Parliament by the previous Government in 2009.
Health Minister Andrew Lansley has expressed concern that the move would not reduce youth smoking as has been claimed, particularly after smoking rates in Canada rose following a display ban there.
The survey was carried out by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, which represents 26,000 independent shopkeepers across the UK and has campaigned against the proposed display ban.
Parminder Singh, a Birmingham shopkeeper and the West Midlands spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, said: “There is a huge black market in tobacco in this country, and that really affects tobacco sales in small shops like mine.
“Putting tobacco under the counter will make smokers feel like they’re doing something illegal when they buy tobacco from a shop. If they think that, they might as well get it from a smuggler who sells it at half the price I can.
“Retailers like me ask customers for ID if we think they are underage, but the criminals who sell smuggled and counterfeit tobacco aren’t bothered and will sell tobacco to anyone.
“This means black market tobacco is much more accessible to underage smokers. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Government to focus on tacking smuggling, rather than senselessly penalising corner shopkeepers through a display ban which they know won’t work?”
The black market in smuggled and counterfeit tobacco already causes a loss to the Treasury of £11 million each day, and deprives legitimate businesses of trade.