At a time when youth access to tobacco and alcohol is a subject of enormous public debate, and when retailers are increasingly in the firing line from test purchasing activity by police and local authorities, one highly culpable group in society is getting off largely scot free.
The proxy purchasers, those who purchase age-restricted products on behalf of the underaged, are getting too much of a free ride at the moment.
In England and Wales, the proxy purchasing of alcohol by an adult for a child was made an offence in 2000. But despite the offences carrying a fixed penalty notice of £80 and a maximum fine of £5,000, the powers have hardly been used.
In Scotland, there has been a law against proxy purchasing on the statute book since 1976, but even here convictions are few and far between.
Only 83 adults were prosecuted last year for supplying children with alcohol, despite surveys showing that 22% of Scottish 13-year-olds and 29% of 15-year-olds obtained alcohol from friends or relatives.
Even more surprisingly, there is currently no law at all against the proxy purchasing of cigarettes and tobacco.
Contrast this with increasingly heavy-handed test purchasing activity by police and local authorities as, under pressure from local communities, they seek to gain a string of convictions against retailers, the softest target available.
Here at Convenience Store, we will always support responsible retailers, but we know responsibility doesn’t begin and end at the store owner’s door.
We believe every adult in society has to take responsibility when it comes to ensuring that children do not gain access to alcohol and tobacco.
And the authorities too have to take their responsibilities seriously.
This week we have written to MPs urging them to introduce a proxy purchasing law for tobacco and, instead of using test purchasing activity to reinforce a culture of blame against retailers, to use already existing powers to ensure that proxy purchasers of alcohol are held fully accountable.
However we want to know about the good news too, and there have been several local campaigns targeting proxy purchasers in specific areas. So if you have been involved in such a campaign, please contact us so we can encourage other retailers as well as local authorities across the country to launch similar initiatives.
● The government to acknowledge that proxy sales are a major route of supply for age-restricted products to children
● The proxy purchasing of tobacco products to be made illegal
● Greater use of existing powers to prosecute proxy purchasers of alcohol
● A review of test purchasing by trading standards and the police
● Investment in community schemes to educate the public about the social costs of supplying alcohol and tobacco to young people
● Download our letter from the website (details at the foot of the page) and send it to your MP
● Better still, invite your local MP to your store to see the issues at first hand
● Call us to relate your experiences as part of a local proxy purchasing campaign