In a letter to Convenience Store, Flint said: "From October 1, 2007, a retailer in England and Wales will be breaking the law if they sell tobacco to a person under the age of 18. In the UK, unlike alcohol, there is no offence committed by the individual who buys the product (tobacco). The onus on compliance is placed on the retailer."
In answer to a parliamentary question on April 24, the minister said she did not expect that raising the age limit from 16 to 18 would result in "serious intimidation or violence against shopkeepers". She added that this had not been the case in Ireland, where the age was recently changed. However, she confirmed that Trading Standards guidance for retailers would include advice on handling intimidation by customers who are refused a sale because they cannot prove that they meet the minimum age.
Flint's parliamentary statement was criticised by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) as "flippant and incorrect".
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "The comments of the Health Minister are flippant and incorrect. It will not be Caroline Flint refusing young people tobacco, but frontline retailers and shopworkers.
"The UK has a culture where young people think nothing of attempting to buy products underage, and this leads to confrontation and conflict. The government needs to act to change this culture, and to make sure it provides an adequate communication campaign to inform retailers and young people of the change. It will help make shopworkers safer if young people expect to be asked for ID when purchasing tobacco."
C-Store readers have commented on this issue at www.convenience-store.co.uk. We asked: Should the government do more to support retailers as the tobacco purchasing age change approaches?
"Teenagers are offensive, callous and disrespectful to anyone who dares to deny them anything, and as long as the authorities fear reprisals from them nothing will change."
"The poor old shopkeeper will be the only one taking responsibility for anything! Is there anyone else out there accountable? Children? Parents? Police? No? That'll be just us then, right?"
"Several members of my staff are now saying that they do not wish to work behind the tills because of abuse from the public when carrying out our Challenge 21 rules and because of the threat of being tricked into selling to an underage person by Trading Standards."