From April, any store which has been convicted once of selling tobacco to minors, and cautioned or warned on two other occasions within a two year period, faces being prohibited from selling tobacco products for up to 12 months.
Responsible c-stores will rise to the challenge with their usual resolve and initiative, but the spectre of three minor slips in two years will haunt even the best prepared, especially in view of the extreme measures some Trading Standards offices are now employing.
At C-Store, we believe the government's insistence on blaming the retailer demonstrates a lack of clear thinking about the route of supply of tobacco to children.
There is a simple, basic inequality in the fact that while a retailer might lose his livelihood for such a sale, an adult friend, family member of passer-by is free to buy and pass on cigarettes to children without any sanction whatsoever.
That's why C-Store is calling for a change in the law to make the proxy purchase of tobacco products illegal, as it is for alcoholic drinks. And the most effective way to make our voice heard is for every independent retailer to contact their MP and inform them of the obvious and immediate need to close this loophole.
We're not alone in this call. The Association of Convenience Stores is lobbying at the highest level to ensure retailers are given a fair hearing. In its submission to the Department of Health consultation on its Future of Tobacco Control Strategy, ACS pointed out that, rather than a sole concentration on retailers, government targets to reduce youth smoking would be better met by tackling adults who provide tobacco to under-18s.
Chief executive James Lowman says: "This is the most likely way that young people will be introduced to smoking. It is immoral and should be illegal."
The Tobacco Retailers' Alliance (TRA) is also working hard to redress the balance of accountability. “If the Government were serious about preventing youth smoking, it would make it illegal for adults to buy tobacco for minors,” says spokesman Ken Patel.
With the Health Bill due for debate in the House of Commons, after which it will be amended at the committee stage, now is the perfect time to alert your MP to this ridiculous inequality in the law. Tell them they have the opportunity to put a measure on the statues that would have a real, tangible effect on young people's smoking habits.
Five minutes, one stamp. A small cost for a huge change in government's approach. Please find the time today.
What we want:
● The government to acknowledge that proxy sales are a major route of supply for tobacco products to children;
● The proxy purchasing of tobacco products to be made illegal
What you can do:
● Contact your MP to enlist their support for an amendment to the Health Bill which makes it an offence to buy tobacco products for children;
You'll find their details at www.theyworkforyou.com. You can write to them at the House of Commons or email them direct from the site.
We've written a sample letter for you to adapt – you'll find it below.
Email email@example.com or call 01293 846505 and tell us who your MP is, and the date of your letter.
Below is an example of a letter you might wish to send to your MP to alert them to the need for a change in the law to stop the proxy purchase of tobacco products.
This will be more effective if you rewrite the key arguments in your own words. Cutting and pasting the text below may mean your letter carries less weight.
To: [MP name and address]
Dear [ ] ,
Proxy Purchase of tobacco products
I own a small retail business, [company name], in your constituency.
I would like to draw your attention to a matter which I feel would make a significant difference to levels of youth smoking in our area. While new legislation, including the forthcoming Health Bill and the recent Tobacco Banning Orders, puts the onus on the retailer to police the supply of tobacco products to under 18s, there is currently no law to prevent adults buying these products on behalf of children.
Like many retailers, I feel there is a basic inequality in the fact that while a small business owner like me could lose his livelihood or be forced to lay off staff because of an accidental sale, an adult friend, family member or passer-by can buy supply children with cigarettes with no sanction whatsoever.
I believe that the most effective way to prevent young people taking up smoking is to make it punishable in law for adults to buy cigarettes and pass them on to children, as is the case with alcohol.
Responsible retailers like me do all we can to prevent sales to underage persons, with rigorous staff training and No ID No Sale initiatives.
The Government continues to target the retail industry with an ever-increasing burden of regulation, legislation and the threat of heavy penalties regarding the sale of tobacco, yet has neglected all the other routes of supply of such products to children.
You will be aware that the Health Bill is due for debate in the Commons in a few weeks' time, and I urge you to consider attaching an amendment to this Bill which will outlaw proxy purchasing of tobacco products for children by irresponsible adults.