The government is considering an amendment to the Health Bill to allow the age to be raised from 16 because ministers believe the move would curb the sale of cigarettes to young people.

However, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) fears that retailers and shop staff could face abuse and violence if they have to police an increase in the smoking age.
Chief executive David Rae said 17-year-old customers who had legally bought cigarettes for a year would take out their frustrations on the person who refused to serve them.

Said Rae: “We know that the single most common cause of abuse and intimidation for shop staff is the refusal to sell an age-restricted product, and the changeover to a higher legal purchasing age would only exacerbate this problem.”

He suggested delaying introduction of the law by a year so that customers were given a clear warning.

Tony Washington, who runs Taylor’s store in Honley, West Yorkshire, has experienced threatening behaviour from teenagers as he makes sure staff question anyone who looks under 21. “I would rather the age limit was 21 for everything as it would make life a lot easier. Violence is pretty bad everywhere and this will only make it worse.”

Dean Holborn of Holborn’s in Redhill, Surrey, said his strict policy on asking for ID already caused teens to become indignant or sometimes insulting. “It will only get worse if they raise the age limit,” he said.

The legal age for buying tobacco is 18 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and America (except for Alaska, Arizona and Utah, where it is 19).