Over 90 retailers across Northern Ireland will be visited by mystery shoppers throughout the month as a compliance programme is rolled out to reduce the risk of underage access to tobacco.

The Responsible Tobacco Retailing (RTR) programme was launched in March 2015 in a joint partnership between tobacco manufacturers JTI, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco.

The programme has already been rolled out across the UK with thousands of independent retailers being visited by mystery shoppers since its launch. Test shops aim to identify if there are any risks of tobacco products being sold to people under the age of 18, with free training support available to stores that need extra training.

The accredited training is designed to cover all age-restricted products, not just tobacco, and can count towards a Level 2 NVQ in preventing under age sales.

The programme follows successful schemes across the UK over the past couple of years.

The first RTR annual report revealed a 19.6% improvement in performance from retailers during the first year of the programme. 

Tony Allen, managing director of Under Age Sales, said: “First and foremost, the purpose of the Responsible Tobacco Retailing programme is to reduce youth access to tobacco, an issue which all involved parties are in agreement must be tackled. We are by no means trying to catch retailers out with the test purchases; far from it – we simply want to identify those that may be at risk of selling tobacco to children and help them take the necessary steps to protect themselves. 

“By empowering and enabling retailers to meet their obligations and become gatekeepers to stop under 18s accessing tobacco, we can all work together to raise standards across the board and make a real difference to communities across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.” 

Paul Baxter, chief executive of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), added: “NFRN members make every effort to retail responsibly but it’s not easy for shopkeepers to judge the ages of people coming into their stores, so making sure you stay within the law when it comes to underage sales is a constant challenge. We therefore welcome this new initiative, which forms part of the Responsible Tobacco Retailing programme, and would encourage any retailer who is identified as at risk to take advantage of the free of charge training.”