Underage sales prevention through independent tobacco retailers has dramatically improved in the past year, results from the Responsible Tobacco Retailing (RTR) annual report show.

Evidence from more than 4,000 test-purchases of independent tobacco retailers has shown a 19.6% improvement in performance, thanks to the free, professional training provided as part of the scheme.

The scheme, which is funded by JTI, PML and Imperial, tests independent retailers using mystery shoppers who are 18 or 19 years old.

Retailers are identified as ‘at risk’ of breaking the law if they do not ask for ID from the test purchaser on two separate occasions, and are offered free, professional on-site training, and No ID No Sale pos and refusal logs.

During the first year, 14% of all retailers assessed were deemed to be ‘at risk’, having failed to challenge for ID on two separate occasions. The majority (87%) of these ’at risk’ retailers were found either to have inadequate, or no, training in place to prevent underage sales.

Cllr Suleman Khonat, chair of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance and NW president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said: “The retail trade warmly welcomes the support they receive from the tobacco industry to help tackle youth access to tobacco.

”We work tirelessly to challenge young people when they try to buy age restricted products, but we can always improve. The RTR programme enables us to identify any areas of concerns and potential issues so retailers can improve their training practices and procedures helping to prevent under 18s accessing tobacco and other age restricted goods.”

The RTR programme currenly covers the North West, Yorkshire & Humberside, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England and Wales.

It is being rolled out to Scotland, Northern Ireland and the South West in 2016 and in 2017 will be extended to the South East and London.

Test purchases are carried out by Serve Legal while compliance advice and support is provided by Under Age Sales Ltd.