A new initiative which seeks to improve independent retailers’ compliance with the law on underaged sales has been launched by JTI.

The pilot scheme, which has a price-tag of £400,000, is being trialled in the North West of England: one of the worst areas for under aged smoking prevalence.

According to new Trading Standards data, 15% of 14 to 17 year olds in the North West are ‘regular smokers,’ and shops remain a key source of supply, alongside proxy purchasing by older friends and family and the illicit trade.

All of the region’s 4,800 stores will receive a new and updated No ID No Sale kit which now includes an array of badges for staff, posters, a refusals register and a Manager’s Guide with tips on dealing with abusive customers.

With the help of independent test purchase company Serve Legal, 2,500 stores from across the region will also be tested using people of 18 and 19, in a bid to assess the robustness of the “challenge culture.”

All stores which fail to challenge the test purchasers for ID will be re-tested, with those that ‘fail’ a second time offered free one to one in-store training and the chance to achieve an NVQ qualification in under aged sales prevention.

They will then be tested one further time in the New Year. Stores that ‘pass’ the test purchases will be informed of their success, and also offered the chance to partake in additional online training via JTI’s Tobacco Retailing website.

“Through a combination of test purchasing to see which businesses may be under threat and training for those that need assistance, we will raise performance levels in this crucial area,” JTI’s head of corporate affairs Paul Williams said. “There can be no excuses for poor performance, and by supporting retailers, particularly those who may not be able to fund their own training in this area, we hope to raise standards.

“JTI’s position is clear, children should not smoke, and JTI is committed to playing a role in ensuring that children do not have access to tobacco products. We are pleased to be able to support retailers and their staff with the tools and training that they need.”

Association of Convenience Stores public affairs director Shane Brennan welcomed the move and urged retailers to take advantage of the free support.

“Preventing sales of all age restricted products, not just tobacco, is a 24/7 challenge for retailers. They face tough penalties for any mistakes or oversights and there is no excuse for poor standards, training or procedures. The JTI pilot scheme which includes professional training is a great example of a major manufacturer supporting retailers to raise standards,” he added.

If successful JTI has pledged to roll the scheme out to the rest of the UK, with the help of Imperial Tobacco, BAT and PML.