The Department of Health parliamentary under-secretary said in the House of Lords that targeting proxy purchasers would be "extremely difficult to enforce" and "of limited value in the government's efforts to reduce smoking among young people".
The comments have angered retailers, who say the comments show a lack of commitment to tackle youngsters' attempts to buy age-restricted goods. Mace retailer Tim Lake from Fareham, Hampshire, told Convenience Store: "I can't understand why it's an offence with alcohol, but can't be with tobacco. There has to be an approach to tackling the problem from all sides."
North London newsagent Mahendra Jadeja, who is the Tobacco Alliance's Responsible Retailers spokesman, added: "It's illegal for shopkeepers like me to sell tobacco to under-18s, and we face a hefty fine if we break the law. However, it's perfectly legal for an adult to come in here and buy tobacco on behalf of a minor. That doesn't make sense. Why should the onus for enforcing the law rest entirely with the retailer?"
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) also criticised the MP's comments and pledged to continue to lobby ministers to introduce a law banning proxy tobacco purchases. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "For the government to claim that a measure is 'too difficult' is unacceptable. Retailers deserve more respect than this."