For the last few months Convenience Store has been encouraging our readers to protest to their MP about the proposed tobacco display ban, which most retailers believe is a poorly-thought-out solution to the complex problems that lead to young people taking up smoking.
Now we’re asking you once again to take to your keyboard and encourage your representative to consider a solution which we feel will be far more effective in reducing the supply of cigarettes to children.
It’s time to make it illegal for adults to buy tobacco products on behalf of under 18’s.
The timing of this call couldn’t be more crucial, as the Health Bill is moving into the Committee and Report stages where its substance and amendments are considered in detail. It’s the best opportunity in the foreseeable future to influence MPs and bring about a change in the law, and a chance that has to be grasped now.
Back in April we asked our readers, who as independent retailers work at the heart of their communities and understand as well as anyone the dynamics of their neighbourhood, to tell us where they thought children got their cigarettes from.
The response was varied. Some said they know of houses where locals call in for illegal supplies. Other laid the blame at the feet of parents, siblings and older friends. One or two, it has to be said, pointed the finger at other shops in the area.
But the most common theme we heard from retailers was that kids who had been refused sale in the store would hang around outside and put pressure on adults to buy for them. “We know what’s going on – you can see them approaching customers outside,” said one North East retailer. “If it was alcohol, staff would be comfortable refusingto serve the adult if they believed it was a proxy purchase, as they would have the protection of the law behind them. With cigarettes, there’s no such law.”
That’s the dilemma right there. One rule for alcohol and another for tobacco. If a customer buys booze for a child they face an £80 fixed penalty notice and a fine of up to £5,000; if it’s tobacco, they walk away scot free.
Surely, if there is a political will to reduce teenage smoking rates, this legal loophole must be addressed, and the law on proxy purchasing of both tobacco and alcohol must be rigorously enforced.
What we want:
● The government to acknowledge that proxy sales are a major route of supply for tobacco products to children;
● The proxy purchasing of tobacco products to be made illegal;
●The law to be widely publicised and rigorously enforced
What you can do:
Contact your MP to enlist their support for an amendment to the Health Bill which makes it an offence to buy tobacco products for children
How do I contact my MP?
You’ll find their details at www.writetothem.com. You can mail them at the House of Commons or email them direct from the site.
What should I write?
We’ve written a sample letter for you to adapt – you’ll find it below.
When you’re done
Email email@example.com or call 01293 846505 and tell us who your MP is, and the date of your letter. Let us know when you get a response.
Here's a sample letter. Please adapt this with your own experiences and knowledge of your neighbourhood - it will make your case stronger.
Dear [ ] ,
Proxy Purchase of tobacco products
I own a small retail business, [company name], in your constituency.
I would like to draw your attention to a matter which I feel would make a significant difference to levels of youth smoking in our area. While new legislation, including the Health Bill and the recent Tobacco Banning Orders, puts the onus on the retailer to police the supply of tobacco products to under 18s, there is currently no law to prevent adults buying these products on behalf of children.
However, you will no doubt be aware that an amendment to outlaw the proxy purchase of tobacco products is to be added to the Health Bill at the Report stage. I urge you to support this amendment and help us redress the balance of responsibility.
Like many retailers, I feel there is a basic inequality in the fact that while a small business owner like me could lose his livelihood or be forced to lay off staff because of an accidental sale, an adult friend, family member or passer-by can supply children with cigarettes with no sanction whatsoever.
I believe that the most effective way to prevent young people taking up smoking is to make it punishable in law for adults to buy cigarettes and pass them on to children, as is the case with alcohol.
Responsible retailers like me do all we can to prevent sales to underage persons, with rigorous staff training and No ID No Sale initiatives.
The Government continues to target the retail industry with the proposed ban on the display of tobacco products, yet has neglected what many in the legitimate retail trade believe are far more concerning routes of supply of such products to children.
I hope you will use your influence to ensure that this amendment is adopted.