The move follows calls from retailers and trade associations for a major public education campaign, to try to limit confrontation between retailers and teenagers who will be unable to purchase cigarettes overnight.
The campaign begins this week with the direct mailing of retailers identified with having the highest volumes of 16- to 17-year-old customers. A website, www.tobaccoagechange.co.uk, has also been launched.
A second direct mailing will be sent out in August to more than 100,000 retailers, and this will include a statutory notice that retailers will have to display from October 1.
At the same time, the campaign will look to engage teenagers through the new website, online advertising and through teenage magazines. The final stage in September and October will involve an outdoor poster campaign at targeted locations including c-stores.
Retailers and trade bodies welcomed the campaign, but regret that previously calls for an earlier start to the awareness drive had fallen on deaf ears. An exclusive Convenience Store survey (May 4, 2007) showed that one in three retailers suffers verbal abuse at least once a week for refusing to sell to an underage person, with some 3% of retailers saying a sales refusal leads to violence at least weekly. Some 90% of retailers said they wanted an awareness campaign to begin immediately in May.
Retailer David Smith, who owns Smith Corner Store in Grimoldby, Lincolnshire, was pleased the campaign had finally started but added: "I would have liked to have been able to plan ahead and train my staff properly. I still feel that the majority of 16- and 17 -year-olds I serve have no idea about the changes."