ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) has urged the Department of Health to follow the Scottish Parliament’s lead by addressing the issue of proxy purchase of tobacco. The Health and Sports Committee has recommended that measures to
criminalise adults supplying tobacco to children be added to the Tobacco and Primary Services (Scotland) Bill. The Committee’s recommendation will now be considered by Scottish Ministers.
ACS says it has been campaigning for similar provisions to be included in the Health Bill currently passing through Westminster. In light of this new development, ACS says it has written a letter to the Public Health Minister Gillian Merron urging her to begin discussion on this issue. The association also raised the issue of proxy purchasing at a meeting with Gillian Merron in August.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome this move toward tackling the issue of proxy purchasing. Most people will be surprised to know that an adult that buys cigarettes from a shop and then walks outside and hands them over to a child is not breaking the law. We are calling on the Government to make these irresponsible actions illegal so as to punish and deter adults that encourage underage smoking.
“We have written to Gillian Merron, urging her to convene discussions between the Department of Health, retailers and enforcement agencies to examine how best to tackle this issue.
“We will monitor the progress in Scotland and hope that in Westminster Government take the opportunity provided by the Health Bill to legislate to ban the proxy purchase of tobacco."
Meanwhile, ACS has responded to the report published by the Local Authority Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) raising concerns about penalties for tobacco retailers.
Lowman said: “LACORS’ concerns regarding the penalties for retailers who sell tobacco to someone under 18 have been very recently addressed by a change in the law. Any retailer that persistently sells tobacco to an under-18 faces a ban from selling tobacco of up to one year as well as the fine of up to £5,000.
“Retailers take these penalties very seriously and many retailers faced with a large fine and tobacco ban could be put out of business.”
Mr Lowman also commented on the report’s findings on test purchasing failures:
“Test purchasing figures are a poor measure of the performance of shops in preventing underage tobacco sales. Trading Standards Officers generally conduct test purchases at shops that have been the subject of complaints or other local intelligence. So the figures in this report show that of the premises suspected of selling tobacco to those underage around one in five were proved to be breaking the law, rather than one in five of all retailers. This is an important distinction.
“The figures do not show that the vast majority of shops do not sell tobacco to those underage and work incredibly hard to be the first line of defence against young people getting hold of tobacco when underage.
“We agree with LACORS that the solution to the problem of underage smoking is a partnership between retailers, government and the community to prevent access and change attitudes. We should not forget that this is working successfully. NHS figures show that the number of young people regularly smoking has dropped to 6% compared to 13% in 1996."