The government is keeping “a very close eye” on how Scottish authorities are managing to enforce the newly-created offence of proxy purchasing tobacco products.
Responding to a House of Commons adjournment debate on proxy purchasing, public health minister Jane Ellison said the government was “interested” to see what would happen in Scotland, which outlawed the proxy purchasing of tobacco products in 2011.
“It is relatively early days yet, but I am certainly interested in looking at that,” the Conservative MP for Battersea added.
However, Trading Standards’ current experiences of enforcing the alcohol offence for proxy purchasing showed that “there were likely to be difficulties enforcing a proxy purchase offence for tobacco,” she added.
“In practice, it is sometimes difficult to prove the offence and effective enforcement would entail surveillance of shopper and retailer behaviours, which can be time consuming and resource intensive,” she said.
Her comments followed a call by Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt to consider changing the law to make proxy purchasing of tobacco products illegal in England and Wales.
“The legal age for purchasing a packet of cigarettes is 18, and retailers can be subject to serious penalties if caught selling tobacco to under-18s,” she said.
“It is clear that tobacco retailers are more than prepared to measure up to their responsibilities in respect of proxy selling to under-age youngsters, but without a legal constraint to back them, what can they do?
“Will the government not strengthen their arm by making proxy purchasing illegal, as it is in Scotland?” Burt asked.
Under current rules, retailers can be sanctioned if they are convicted of selling tobacco products to children under the age of 18. These include a Restriction Premises Order, which can prohibit a premises or an individual retailer from selling tobacco products for up to one year. However, there are no sanctions against adults who knowingly buy tobacco products for children.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) welcomed Burt’s call. “We are in favour of a ban on proxy purchasing of tobacco products to bring the legislation in line with the purchase of alcohol. However, any new legislation must be supported by robust enforcement measures to deter adults from buying tobacco on behalf of minors,” said chief executive James Lowman.