Tough new rules which could see retailers lose the right to sell tobacco for up to one year come into force in April.

Retailers are being warned to "get their house in order" to avoid the consequences of the new legislation, introduced as part of the government's drive to prevent the supply of tobacco products to young people.

From April 1, any retailer caught selling tobacco to a person under 18 three times in a two-year period could face a Restricted Premises Order, banning them from selling tobacco for up to 12 months.

Of the three offences, only one has to be a criminal conviction; written warnings or cautions can count as the other two.

Magistrates will also have the option of prohibiting a specific member of staff from selling or supervising the sale of tobacco.

Independent retailer and spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance Ken Patel said that retailers should ensure staff are fully trained and aware of their responsibilities. "To be banned from selling tobacco in this tough economic climate would be devastating to any small shop," he said.

He called on the government to take an equally tough approach with adults who purchase tobacco for under-18s.

"It doesn't make sense to get so tough with shopkeepers when it is still legal for adults to buy for minors," he said.

l See our Stop Tobacco Proxy Purchasing campaign, p14