LONDON: The UK government's ongoing campaign to discourage young people from taking-up smoking and encourage the addicted to quit, is now focusing its attention on store displays and vending machines.

Health ministers are considering outlawing current cigarette displays, found in many small stores and supermarkets, in favour of 'under-the-counter' sales – a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Colourful rows of cigarette packs could be replaced by nicotine gums and patches, while further measures include banning vending machines from bars and restaurants.

Declares public health minister Dawn Primarolo: "It's vital we get across the message to children that smoking is bad. If that means stripping out vending machines or removing cigarettes from behind the counter, I'm willing to do that."

Conservative Party opposition leader David Cameron, himself a reformed smoker, has given a cautious welcome to the moves, saying: "I think this is worth looking at. As someone who struggled with giving up smoking, it helps if you take away some of the temptation."

The proposal has, however, alarmed the Association of Convenience Stores, which claims that forcing shops to hide their cigarettes would create practical and costly difficulties for retailers.

And think-tank Progressive Vision's spokesman Mark Littlewood thunders: "Banning the display of cigarettes and vending machines would be petty, pointless and patronising.

"These sorts of ideas are typical of a government who seem hell bent on intervening in every single aspect of our lives, however trivial."

The proposal will go out for public consultation before any final decisions are taken.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff