Forecourt retailers have broadly welcomed the government’s New Year’s Day announcement that the legal age for buying tobacco products will be raised from 16 to 18 from October 1, 2007, saying the higher age limit will be easier to enforce.

The reaction comes despite the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) raising concerns that shop staff could face abuse from younger smokers who were previously able to buy cigarettes. Mike Dearing of Chatham Road Service Station, in Maidstone, Kent, said: "As retailers we’re already used to dealing with stroppy teenagers when they are refused a sale. With some younger teenagers, particularly girls, it can be difficult to tell if they are 16 or not. Raising the age should make this easier, especially as an 18-year-old is more likely to be carrying ID."

Sarah Rashid of Frilford Service Station, in Oxfordshire, said she thought the change would have little impact on sales: "As a transient site, we have very few people walking on. The vast majority of customers are drivers, so already aged at least 17."

But Karl Brocklehurst of Westbridge Motors in Northampton stressed that the government must support retailers by raising awareness ahead of the change. The ACS has also called for a high-profile campaign to educate consumers, which the government has said will be launched early this year.

ACS chief executive, James Lowman, said: "It is essential that there is a well-funded and effectively-targeted communications campaign to explain the change in the law and ensure local retailers are not faced with intimidation from young customers. Retailers will be on the front line in enforcing the new age."

Meanwhile, the Trading Standards Institute is warning retailers to be prepared for a clamp-down on under-age sales ahead of the change. Brandon Cook, lead officer for age-restricted sales, said: "Local authorities are likely to be more active in response to the increased publicity." Retailers will also need to replace age-restriction signage in time for the change, he added.