Underage tobacco sales claim angers retailers

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Retailers have slammed the findings of a sting operation in which a fifth of small shops in England sold cigarettes to customers under the age of 18.

The survey, carried out by trading standards body the Local Authority Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (Lacors), consisted of teenage volunteers visiting more than 4,000 shops over the course of a year.

After its conclusion Lacors chairman Paul Bettison claimed the penalties for retailers that sell cigarettes to underage customers were so low they were not an effective deterrent.

“Councils are doing everything in their power to protect young people from the dangers of smoking but retailers are effectively only being slapped on the wrist with minuscule fines,” he said.

“Less than £100 is hardly enough to make a shopkeeper think twice.”

His comments angered the Association of Convenience Stores, which said retailers took the penalties very seriously.

“Lacors’ concerns regarding the penalties for retailers that sell tobacco to someone under 18 have been very recently addressed by a change in the law,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman. “Any retailer that persistently sells tobacco to an under-18 faces a ban from selling tobacco of up to one year as well as a fine of up to £5,000.”

Lowman claimed test purchases were a poor measure of the performance of shops overall as they frequently targeted stores that had already been the subjects of complaints.

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