Independent retailers have reacted angrily to news that the government has no plans to criminalise proxy purchases of tobacco products by adults for children.

Speaking in the House of Lords, health minister Lord Darzi said the government did not support such a move on the grounds it would be "extremely difficult to enforce and therefore of limited value in the government's efforts to reduce smoking among young people under 18".

The government's line has angered the ACS and the Tobacco Alliance, both of which had been pushing for the rules relating to tobacco sales to be brought into line with alcohol. The campaigners believe tougher laws on proxy purchases and attempted underage purchases would help retailers uphold the law and reduce the abuse faced by shopworkers over age-related sales. "For the government to claim a measure is 'too difficult' is totally unacceptable," said ACS chief executive James Lowman. "Do retailers refuse to comply with government policies because they are too bureaucratic or difficult?"

The ACS said it had written to the government following Lord Darzi's remarks and was continuing to press for an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is currently before parliament.