The government is going to wait until September before advertising the rise in minimum tobacco purchasing age to the public, despite warnings that the change could lead to increased intimidation of store staff.
The Department of Health (DoH) has confirmed to Convenience Store that retailers will be sent an information pack in mid-July, explaining the increase in minimum legal age from 16 to 18 starting from October 1.
While the pack will include a poster to be displayed in-store, no specific consumer advertising is planned until September, when teenagers will be targeted in partnership with schools.
A poll of C-Store readers shows that 90% of independent retailers think it is either 'vital' or 'very important' that the age change is advertised to the public, and the same proportion thinks this campaign should begin 'immediately'.
However, the DoH is reluctant to commit to an advertising campaign before the ban on smoking in public places has been rolled out to the UK, with England the last country to go smoke-free on July 1.
A DoH spokesperson said: "We will be running a campaign focused on teenagers in September, linking in with schools to coincide with the start of the new term. This timing has been planned to avoid confusion with the smoke-free law on July 1. Trading Standards departments will receive more detailed guidance on helping retailers deal with intimidation by teenagers when the new law takes effect."
The DoH met with representatives of retail trade associations last week to outline the plan, where the fears about the potential for increased intimidation and verbal abuse were put forward. According to the C-Store poll, 13% of stores already experience verbal abuse every day for refusing to serve underage customers.
ACS public affairs manager Shane Brennan said: "The change in minimum purchasing age is a big issue for retailers, and we are concerned that the government is not taking it seriously enough. We will continue to press the government to consider retailers' interests."