Legal action to prosecute adults who buy tobacco products for children will be on the agenda as the Health Bill is debated in the House of Commons later this month, but Opposition attempts to introduce a balanced approach to the problem of youth smoking will face a rough ride.

In response to a letter from Convenience Store reader Raymond Sandall of Maynews in Hull, Minister of State for Health Dawn Primarolo said she welcomed evidence on the issue, but warned that she opposed outlawing proxy sales as it would be "difficult to pursue".

However she agreed that adults supplying cigarettes to children was wrong. "These people undermine the law and encourage young people to experiment with and take up smoking," she said.

The minister said the enforcement of underage sales of tobacco, including proxy purchases, are handled by local authorities who would "need to obtain permission to undertake surveillance and would need to commit resources to enforcing this additional offence."

C-Store's Stop Tobacco Proxy Purchasing campaign is calling for the proxy sales to be classed as a criminal offence, enforced by the police, as is the case with alcohol.

Raymond, who sent his MP a draft letter obtained from the C-Store campaign's website, said: "The problem of kids smoking won't get any better if the government doesn't want to take the hard option. It's the easy way out just to hit the retailer.

"They have got to get to the root of this problem, and show the people who supply children that they won't get away with it."

Raymond criticised Primarolo's claim that almost 80% of children aged between 11 and 15 brought their own cigarettes from shops, a statement which appears to contradict the government's own finding that 89% of young people said they were either given cigarettes or that they purchased them from other people. "Where did she get her facts?" he said. "The minister hasn't got a clue what the real lines of supply are."

Read more about Convenience Store's Stop Tobacco Proxy Purchasing campaign

See our template letter to send to your MP