The use of children by health boards in Ireland to catch retailers selling cigarettes to minors does not constitute entrapment, provided certain safeguards are in place, the Irish High Court has ruled.

In a test case that will clear the way for a number of prosecutions, Judge Roderick Murphy ruled that youngsters must be protected from the dangers of smoking. However, he said the use of children for test purchases must involve parental consent, the children must be willing volunteers and, if asked, they must give their correct age.

The case centred on the prosecution of a store owner and shop assistant in Ballymote, County Sligo, accused of selling cigarettes to a 14-year-old girl, used as a volunteer by the local health board, without asking her age.

A district justice ruled that legitimate doubts had been raised and adjourned a decision pending the High Court ruling.

A number of other delayed cases now look set to proceed.