The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has criticised the government for the fast-track introduction a new penalty for retailers who sell tobacco to under-18s.

A proposal to make the offence eligible for an £80 fixed penalty notice could be adopted within 10 days, without consultation with retailers or other stakeholders.

The Ministry of Justice proposal is due to be debated in the House of Commons on January 19 and in the House of Lords on January 22, with a provisional introduction date of January 26.

"We are extremely concerned that this new penalty, which could be used against people working in shops from the end of this month, has been introduced without any communication or consultation," said ACS chief executive James Lowman. "It is unacceptable for the government to introduce new penalties by stealth."

Lowman called on the government to delay a decision on the proposal until the retail industry has been consulted properly on the situation. He said: "We have written to Ministers calling for a delay to use of the new penalties to allow time to inform those who are affected. The delay is vital to ensure that those that are faced with the new sanction understand the implications for the enforcement of underage tobacco offences and to allow time to train retail staff."