Department of Health regulations to hide cigarettes from view will cost retailers £15m, a trade lobby group has claimed.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) branded the government's tobacco display ban "crazy" in the light of the debate over plain packaging on tobacco products.

It claimed it was pointless for stores to spend money on refits to store tobacco products out of sight when plain packaging could have the same impact on sales.

"Implementing the tobacco display ban is inconsistent, irrational and fails the government's own better regulation principles," said BRC director Andrew Opie.

"It's crazy to have forced large retailers to spend millions installing new shelves, introduction new signage and re-training staff while the same department is still considering new rules on packaging. If a decision is taken to go ahead with plain packaging, hiding tobacco products from view in store becomes irrelevant.

"Retailers are working closely with the government to help people stop smoking, alongside all their other work on public health and obesity, but the new policy on tobacco displays in shops is a costly irrelevance which could soon be obsolete."

From 6 April, all shops in England larger than 280 square metres must keep tobacco hidden from view. A shelf area no larger than 1.5 square metres can be temporarily exposed while a customer is served or during training and re-stocking.

The BRC claimed that it would cost each of the 6,834 stores affected by the display ban £2,245 to be refitted.

Health minister Paul Burstow said: "The health and economic benefits of stopping tobacco displays far outweigh the costs of covering displays.

"But we know there is no single answer to cutting smoking rates. That is why we will soon be consulting on plain packaging of cigarettes and whether this could be an effective way to reduce smoking take-up."

Cancer Research UK claims that up to 157,000 children start smoking every year, the equivalent of 5,200 classrooms.