A ground-breaking education and test purchasing pilot from JTI has had positive results, with a marked increase in compliance from retailers taking part.

The £400,000 programme, carried out with the support of Serve Legal, led to a 7% rise in the number of retailers requesting ID.

Test purchases were carried out in 2,500 independent stores across the North West, which has a high rate of underage smokers, between September 2013 and April 2014.

The scheme used test purchasers aged between 18 and 19 in a bid to assess the general “challenge culture” of stores and identify those which could be “at risk” of failing a genuine underage test purchase.

The initial phase tested all 2,500 stores. Those classified as “at risk” were then notified that they would be visited again. Those that didn’t challenge the test purchasers for ID a second time were subsequently offered free specialist training on preventing underage sales. The training sessions covered tips on how to challenge for ID and checking its validity. 

Compliance increased as a result of the pilot, with the number of retailers considered “at risk” falling from 52% in the initial testing to 45% in the final phase.

JTI said the pilot proved that free, professional training for retailers was an effective way of preventing access to age-restricted products.

JTI corporate affairs manager Tom Hirons said:  “As a result of the programme we have been able to help many retailers safeguard their businesses, and also gain further ground in stopping young people from accessing tobacco products. It proves that training is an effective way to raise standards in this crucial area.

“By undertaking this initiative JTI has taken a lead to combat underage sales. However, at a time when public resources are being cut, it also illustrates that much more needs to be done.”

Serve Legal director Julian Sargeson added: “We are delighted with the results, and hope the success of the pilot shows just how effective independent testing can be in tackling underage sales.”

In a recent survey of 500 independent retailers, conducted by JTI, 32% admitted that they did not have any formal training for their staff to prevent underage sales.

 JTI also funded the distribution of NVQ Level 2 Workbooks on preventing under age sales with some retailers going on to get certified qualifications through Edexcel.