Store staff will have to check the age of customers before letting them see a packet of cigarettes – or else face prosecution under the tobacco display regulations. 

A new offence of displaying tobacco to a person under the age of 18 will be introduced when small shops enter the dark market in 2013.

Details of the rules revealed earlier this month explain that retailers will be permitted to briefly display a 0.75sq m section of their gantry if a shopper asks to see the available brands, but doing so for someone who is under the age of 18 could incur a £5,000 fine, or even a prison sentence.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) public affairs director Shane Brennan told Convenience Store this would render defunct tools such as till prompts, which retailers currently use to remind staff to check for ID, as an offence would already have been committed by the time a product was retrieved and scanned. 

Stores would need to review their sales policies and staff training to ensure that a person’s age is checked before tobacco is displayed, Brennan said.

It will also be an offence to transport uncovered tobacco products through the store and to the gantry, he added. 

Ken Patel, retailer and spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance, said: “These regulations are ludicrous – they are difficult to understand, extremely difficult to implement in a busy shop and almost impossible for the authorities to enforce. By tying itself in knots over the visibility of tobacco products in shops, the government is neglecting the real issue – which is the availability of tobacco products to under-18s.”