Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has launched a pilot scheme to combat underage sales, which it claims is the first to be undertaken by a tobacco supplier.
The company has invested £400,000 in an initiative to provide greater training and support for independent retailers and symbol groups in the North West.
JTI is sending information packs to stores in the area and has embarked on a testing process on more than half the smaller retailers in the area, to identify those that do not routinely challenge young shoppers for ID, and to offer ‘intervention training’. The testing process will involve sending youthful-looking young people aged 19 or above into stores to see if they are challenged by shopkeepers when they go to buy cigarettes.
The move follows budgets cuts to Trading Standards in the North West, which have seen a 34% decline in testing of stores to identify those at risk of selling cigarettes to children.
Currently, the region has one of the highest instances of regular underage smoking, with 15% of 14-17-year-olds classed as regular smokers [Trading Standards North West 2013].
The scheme will run until April, but if it is successful, JTI will look to roll out a nationwide initiative in partnership with other tobacco companies, while lobbying the government to clamp down on illicit trade and introduce legislation to close the loopholes on ‘proxy purchasing’.
“The first step of government in this area is regulation not education. Our view is that there is another way,” said JTI’s head of communications Jeremy Blackburn. “We are on the same side as the health groups and all have a goal to reduce access.”
The move has been welcomed by ACS’ public affairs director Shane Brennan, who said it set a great example to raise standards. “Preventing sales of all age-restricted products, not just tobacco, is a 24/7 challenge for retailers. They face tough penalties for any mistakes or oversights and there is no excuse for poor standards, training or procedures.”