No one would deny that selling tobacco and alcohol products to under-18s is as immoral and irresponsible as it is illegal. That’s why the convenience sector is working hard, through staff training, vigorously enforced ‘No ID No Sale’ policies and community initiatives, to ensure that the local store is a barren hunting ground for youngsters who attempt to purchase age-restricted items. We’re getting our house in order – and it’s time that government accepted that it can’t solely blame the retailer for tobacco and alcohol finding their way into teenage hands. Instead, it must tackle the real source of supply of these products to children, and for that it needs to look a little closer to home. “Adults who buy tobacco on behalf of an under-18 do so in full knowledge that the person they are buying for is underage,” says James Lowman of the ACS. “This is the single most likely way that young people will be introduced to smoking, and as it stands nothing is done about it. Proxy purchasing is immoral and should be illegal.” The situation is no better with alcoholic drinks, even though passing these on to a child is an offence. A GfK NOP commissioned by ACS earlier this year revealed that 54% of people believe parents should take the primary responsibility for the problem, with only 9% citing shops and supermarkets as the main culprits. “This is a message that the government should listen to,” Lowman adds. “More needs to be done to educate parents and bring light to the real issue of proxy purchasing.” Independent retailers agree wholeheartedly with that. Londis retailer Ramesh Shingadia told C-Store: “The government often puts the blame on retailers, but the truth is the responsibility has to start at home. We’re just one part of the process and I’m glad that the public recognises this.” And Lesley Brown of Frankmarsh Stores in Barnstaple, Devon, adds: “We’ve seen evidence that adults, including parents, are buying alcohol on behalf of children. We’ve told the police that we will make CCTV footage available, along with epos data, as proof of purchase, and that these could form the basis of evidence for a prosecution. “We’ve got to get the message across that this is an offence which carries a penalty,” she adds. Gareth Lewis, head of loss prevention and compliance at Southern Co-op, leads the group’s responsible retailing drive. “We identified very quickly that the biggest problem wasn’t underage kids purchasing alcohol but adults supplying them,” he told C-Store earlier this year. “There are plenty of people out there who will buy alcohol and sell it on to kids.” The Co-op has also run leaflet campaigns targeting adults with the strapline, ‘What kind of adult buys alcohol for a child?’ It has also worked with Trading Standards on a campaign called ProxyWatch, which informs adult customers of the repercussions of supplying alcohol to a minor and invites members of the public to contact a Trading Standards hotline if they have seen adults purchasing alcohol and supplying minors. It’s one of several examples of a welcome shift in perception – a change that C-Store wants to accelerate, with your help.
What we call for
● Government to acknowledge that proxy sales are a major route of supply to children ● Proxy purchasing of tobacco products to be made illegal ● Prosecution of adults who buy age-restricted goods and pass them on to children ● Investment in community schemes to educate the public on the social costs of supplying age-restricted products to children