A huge swathe of retailers across the UK could be habitually breaking the law by failing to ask for ID from teenagers who try to buy tobacco related products in their shops, a tobacco industry report reveals.

The Responsible Tobacco Retailing (RTR) programme, launched two years ago by Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, commissioned age-restricted mystery shopping specialist Serve Legal to test 3,626 shops across the UK last year.

It found:

  • A large minority – 46% – of retailers correctly challenged for ID before completing the sale
  • An increase in compliance of 9% year on year in the first half of the calendar year
  • 47% of outlets did not have warning signage outside their store
  • 84% had no age verification policy written down
  • 79% had no documented training in place
  • 63% provided undocumented ad hoc, verbal training
  • 16% provided no training provision.

Serve Legal found that staff in just 56% of premises made eye contact with the purchasers before the transaction – particularly important because RTR said retailers were more likely to be compliant with legislation if eye contacts was made before a purchase.

Retailers in the East of England and East Midlands were considerably more likely to challenge for ID from younger consumers – 64% compared with the national average of 54%.

Suleman Khonat, chair of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance and NW president of the Federation of Retail Newsagents said: “Targeting different regions each year has allowed us to see that the illegal sale of age-restricted products is not isolated to one area of the UK, but it is a national problem, and one that needs rectifying.”

Lord Porter, leader of South Holland District Council, who wrote the foreword to a the RTR’s annual report, Reducing Youth access to tobacco, said many retailers might just need to be reminded of “their vital role in helping to prevent underage smoking” but Trading Standards would continue to root out “a small number” of retailers who knowingly flouted the law.