Scotland is to become the first British country to ban the proxy purchase of tobacco products, a move which many hope will put pressure on Westminster to follow suit.

The Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill, which passed its second stage in the Scottish Parliament last week, includes a measure that brings tobacco proxy purchasing into line with the law for alcohol.

The move represents a victory for campaigners including the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA). Fiona Barrett, Scottish spokeswoman for the TRA and a Glasgow newsagent, says: "Although we shopkeepers face a huge fine and could lose our right to sell tobacco if we sold it to an under-18, it is legal for adults to buy it on minor's behalf.

"This situation is not only unfair, but makes a mockery of the restrictions on shopkeepers to have such a gaping loophole."

What store owners have longed to see is a shift in the emphasis of responsibility for preventing children getting their hands on cigarettes current policy puts the onus on retailers, they say, to police supply. "The Scottish Parliament has levelled the playing field somewhat and begun to widen the responsibility for preventing under-18s from accessing cigarettes," says Fiona. "Youth smoking remains a problem, but the answer is not simply to place restrictions on small business. This is a step in the right direction."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Doing this will ensure that there is more balance between the statutory responsibilities of tobacco retailers and underage purchasers or people buying on their behalf."

Retailers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now have to pressure the government into catching up with Scotland. The Department of Health has repeatedly refused to adopt the measure, saying it would only cover a small number of cases, and recent attempts to add an amendment to the Health Bill ended in failure.

However, an announcement in last week's Queen's Speech that the government is formulating legislation to protect communities by ensuring that parents take responsibility for their children's antisocial behaviour means there's good reason to believe that the imbalance of responsibility may yet be addressed. All that's needed is the appropriate prompting.

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