Last week supermarket retailer Co-op announced that it would remove lads mags from its shelves in more than 4,000 outlets unless publishers took measures to cover them up with “modesty bags” by 9 September.

Titles affected include Loaded, Front, Zoo and Nuts. The latter three are printed by Polestar.

The move followed increasing pressure from lobbyists and consumers groups concerned about the exposure to children of sexually explicit material on supermarket shelves.

Paul Williams, managing director of IPC Inspire, the division that publishes Nuts, said that Co-op’s knee-jerk attempt to restrict access to a product that consumers had enjoyed for nearly a decade was wrong.

He added: “Nuts takes its obligation to craft products that are right for consumers and retailers alike very seriously, and for a number of weeks now we have had new covers in place, which have a more conservative tone.”

Williams said readers had responded positively to its toned down covers, with last week’s issue being the biggest seller since February.

“The objection that niche lobby groups have against certain sectors of the media should not mean that the right to purchase a perfectly legal product is be restricted for the over half a million Nuts readers,” he said.

“As has been widely reported in the media in recent weeks, this is no longer a question of whether or not you like men’s magazines, it is a question of how far you can restrict the public’s ability to consume free and legal media before it becomes censorship.”

Meanwhile Nuts editor Dominic Smith told BBC’s Newsbeat that if Co-op chose to remove the title from its shelves, shoppers would simply be encouraged to go elsewhere. “If we do sell a few less issues, then so be it,” he told the show.

Co-op said its position had not changed and titles that were not covered by the September deadline would be removed.

Following last week’s announcement, BPIF chief executive Kathy Woodward said the move should come as no surprise and that it was important for printers to maintain good relationships with their clients, so that solutions could be worked out that didn’t result in printers shouldering the cost of extra packaging.