A ban on tobacco promotion comes into force today in a bid to cut down on the numbers of smokers and deter young people from taking up the habit.
From midnight supermarkets across England were forced to hide cigarettes under the counter or behind shutters.
The Department of Health said the move was in response to evidence that cigarette displays in shops can encourage young people to take up the habit.
More than 300,000 children under 16 try smoking each year and 5 per cent of children aged 11 to 15 are regular smokers, according to its figures.
Meanwhile 39 per cent of smokers say that they were smoking regularly before the age of 16.
Health Minister Anne Milton said: ‘We cannot ignore the fact that young people are recruited into smoking by colourful, eye-catching, cigarette displays.
‘Most adult smokers started smoking as teenagers and we need to stop this trend.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the ban was part of a move to ensure ‘we no longer see smoking as a part of life’.
”It’s also about supporting smokers who want to give up.
‘There’s more than a third of smokers who say they want to stop. Each year we have nearly 800,000 smokers who try to quit, 50 per cent succeed.
‘We want to continue to increase that proportion, help more people to stop.’
The Government hopes the ban will discourage young people from taking up smoking
He dismissed the suggestion that smoking could become more attractive to young people if it is kept hidden and insisted the key issue was about ‘shifting the culture’.
‘The culture is about moving to a place where tobacco and smoking isn’t part of normal life: people don’t encounter it normally, they don’t see it in their big supermarkets, they don’t see people smoking in public places, they don’t see tobacco vending machines,’ he added.
‘We are going to continue to try to act against smoking for the simple reason that most smokers want to quit and it is the biggest avoidable cause of early mortality.’
Jean King, of Cancer Research UK, told the programme: ‘We want everything we can possibly do to make cigarettes unavailable and inaccessible and something that children don’t see as a normal product.’
She said there was ‘no positive use’ for tobacco and no known safe level of use, adding: ‘We need to do everything we can to prevent young people getting hold of cigarettes.’
Under the new rules all tobacco products must be kept out of sight except when staff are serving customers or carrying out other day-to-day tasks such as restocking.
Those found not complying with the law could be fined up to £5,000 or face imprisonment.
The ban on displays will roll out to smaller shops and businesses in three years’ time while the Government is also consulting on introducing plain packaging for packets of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Attempts at a ban in Scotland have been delayed by legal action and there is already strong opposition to the legislation in England.
Cigarette companies claim the ban won’t deter young smokers and fear it will encourage the trade in illegal tobacco products.
A spokesman for British American Tobacco, which owns cigarette brands Dunhill, Rothmans and Lucky Strike, told the BBC: ‘We do not believe that hiding products under the counter or behind curtains or screens will discourage people, including the young, from taking up smoking.
‘There’s no sound evidence to prove display bans are justified.’