When is a law not a law? When it’s a COP (code of practice)

There are products within every c-store that can upset shoppers and the local community, but are not actually covered by any laws. In many cases, a COP (code of practice) has evolved among manufacturers and retailers to promote good self-governance of these controversial categories. These are optional and there are no legal consequences for breaching them, but abiding by the codes of practice will help cement your credentials as a responsible retailer in your community.

The massive growth in energy drinks and the recent addition of energy shots have increased scrutiny in this category, and particularly the caffeine content of products. However, there is no legal restriction on their sale. Under EU labelling regulations, products containing more than 15mg of caffeine per 100ml must be marked 'High Caffeine Content' with the caffeine content printed in mg per 100ml. For example, Red Bull contains 32mg per 100ml, meaning a small can contains about as much caffeine as a large mug of tea or coffee.

Earlier this year, the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) devised a COP about the marketing and labelling of energy drinks and shots.

The BSDA maintains that soft drinks high in caffeine should not be targeted at those under 16, either through direct advertising or in-store promotion. It also advises that product labelling should include the phrase 'Not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine'.

The COP applies to energy shots if they are marketed as a soft drinks brand, but not if they are presented as a food supplement, which adopts different labelling conventions.

So-called lads' mags such as Nuts and Zoo have often been the target of angry parents and elected representatives concerned about their graphic front covers and content. Unlike specific adult material, magazines do not carry any age specific guidelines or display restrictions, but the news trade has devised a COP for retailers to follow.

Store owners are advised not to display lads' mags at children's eye-level or below, to ensure they are not in the direct sight and reach of children, and to make sure that they are not displayed adjacent to children's titles and comics.

Where limited display space prevents this, it is recommended that front covers which may cause concern are part-overlapped with other titles so as to minimise the potential for offence.

Two main pieces of legislation exist covering the sale of aspirin and paracetamol over the counter. One restricts the pack size to 16 tablets (32 if sold in a pharmacy), and the other restricts sale to no more than 100 tablets at a time. However, a code of practice exists which encourages retailers to sell no more than two packs (ie 32 tablets) in a single transaction, and some retailers choose to sell only one pack per customer. 

Read more:
Legislation: Convenience law
Legislation: Alcohol
Legislation: Tobacco
Legislation: Employment
Legislation: Consumer Protection
Legislation: Environment
Legislation: In-store music