The House of Lords has given its backing to government plans to outlaw tobacco proxy purchasing.
An amendment to the Children and Families Bill means it will soon be an offence for a person over the age of 18 to buy tobacco or cigarette papers on behalf of a minor.
Trading Standards officers will be granted new powers to issue fixed penalty notices and fines of up to £2,500 to adults caught in the act.
The move comes just weeks after Lords rejected similar proposals to make tobacco proxy purchasing illegal via an amendment to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Addressing the House, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Health, Earl Howe, said: “Since that debate, the government has carefully reflected on the powerful arguments made by your Lordships.
“The government has also taken into account the views of retailers and their representative bodies, which have long argued for the creation of a proxy-purchasing offence for tobacco. They feel it is unfair that current legislation sets out an offence for retailers that sell cigarettes to children, but that there is no offence of proxy purchasing.
“Let me be clear that I welcome the role that retailers play in ensuring stringent application of existing age-of-sale legislation for tobacco. I also pay tribute to the work done by retailer bodies, such as the Association of Convenience Stores, in supporting their members to effectively apply age-of-sale provisions for tobacco.”
The new clause would “not require local authorities to undertake regular programmes of enforcement” and would therefore “not place any significant new regulatory burdens on local authorities,” Howe added.
“Local authorities know their communities better than anyone, and will know how best to address their public health priorities. This amendment allows local authorities to take targeted enforcement on proxy purchasing where they consider it is needed.”
Success would not be measured by the number of prosecutions alone, because the new offence “should generate a worthwhile deterrent effect,” he continued.
The government also plans to work with local authorities, retailers and parents to educate people about the risks of tobacco proxy purchasing.
Other key amendments to the Bill include the creation of an offence for buying or attempting to buy nicotine products, such as electronic cigarettes, on behalf of a minor. Selling them to under 18s will also be an offence.
A time-scale for enforcement has yet to be decided, but it could be as early as this autumn.