An attempt to add an amendment banning proxy purchasing of tobacco products the recent Health Bill was defeated in the later stages of its passage through Parliament.
In a letter to a Convenience Store reader, the Department of Health said that although cases where friends or family share cigarettes with a child are the usual source of tobacco for about a third of children, this supply route would not be viewed as proxy puchasing.
Retailers now hope that a new government will redress this legal imbalance.
The situation is more promising in Scotland, where the government plans to criminalise proxy purchasing under the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill.
The Scottish Grocers Federation has praised the move. "Knowingly buying tobacco for a person who is too young to smoke is unarguably immoral and it should be illegal," it said.