More than 60 per cent of retail outlets break the rules on cigarette displays, a new study has found.

And the worst culprits are in areas with a higher proportion of children.

The survey of almost 300 stores and retail outlets in the Greater Wellington region, done by Otago University's Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, is the first of its kind.

Dairies (76 per cent) and convenience stores (82 per cent) were found most likely to break at least one of the regulations for retail tobacco displays. Only a small proportion of supermarkets and petrol station stores did so.

Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor said having a "dangerous and addictive drug" alongside children's lollies was unacceptable. The rules on retail display of tobacco products were clear.

" ... it is alarming that so many dairies and convenience stores are blatantly ignoring them ... I have asked the Ministry [of Health] to look very carefully at this and to provide me with some options to better enforce the rules or to beef them up."

Dr George Thomson of the School of Medicine said the most common breach for supermarkets was the failure to display "smoking kills" signage.

The results were a surprise, he said. "This study indicates that the current cigarette display regulations are failing to protect children from tobacco marketing, and a complete ban on cigarette displays is needed."

He said the Government had two options: to enforce the current restrictions more vigilantly - which is expensive and difficult - or to have a complete ban on cigarette displays.

Belinda Hughes from the Cancer Society, which sponsored the research, felt the current legislation was "woefully inadequate".

"Cigarettes are not just another consumer item. They cause lethal cancers and are highly addictive."

The director of anti-smoking lobby group Ash, Becky Freeman, agreed.

"Every marketer knows the importance of shelf space in dairies and supermarkets. The tobacco industry pays thousands of dollars to retain the best shelf space to attract and addict our kids. This has to stop."

Retailers Association spokesman Barry Hellberg said his members, mainly supermarkets and oil companies, were aware of their obligations and had taken steps to comply with the law. But he said small retailers were not represented by a central body.

Tobacco product displays which breach regulations carry a maximum fine of $10,000.

Dairy owner clears air on tobacco

A West Lynn dairy owner says he has no problems with the stringent tobacco advertising laws and wants the air cleared for youngsters.

Ronnie Naidoo, who has owned the Peel Street Dairy for six years, said he supported the laws which place restrictions on the promotion of tobacco products.

"It's just to keep the under-18s away from cigarettes and that's a good thing," he said.

He complies with the laws commonly broken by some dairy owners in the Wellington area surveyed in a Otago University study. All of his tobacco products are behind the counter and more than the required metre from products children are likely to buy such as sweets and there is no advertising of cigarettes visible from outside his store.

"I don't have a problem with it at all and I really don't like to see kids with cigarettes anyway.

"There are so many children smoking these days, you see them every day walking around with cigarettes in their mouths."

Mr Naidoo had been visited just once by Ministry of Health officials since the tobacco advertising laws came into effect but did not want more regular checks on dairy owners.

"If owners are up to date with the regulations there shouldn't be a problem and they shouldn't really have to make more frequent visits."

- James Ihaka


* 24 per cent of all stores had tobacco products closer than 1m to children's products such as sweets

* 30 per cent failed to display a 'Smoking Kills' sign within 2m of the display

* 25 per cent had tobacco displays visible from outside the shop

* 55 per cent of dairies and convenience stores in areas with the highest proportion of children displayed cigarettes within 1m of children's products.