Underage Sales

Sales of tobacco products

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law.

Tobacco image

It is an offence to sell tobacco products (which includes cigarette papers), to persons under the age of 18, even from a vending machine on your premises.

Remember that you, as the owner of the business, are liable for the actions of your staff. Legal action may be taken against you even if you did not sell the product yourself.

Penalty

The maximum fine is £2500. In addition if a person is convicted of making an illegal sale to anyone under the age of 18 years and, on at least two other occasions within a 2 year period, has committed other similar offences (these do not need to have resulted in a conviction) a sanction may be applied for. A Local Authority may apply to a Magistrates Court for a Restricted Premises Order or a Restricted Sale Order or both:

Warning Notices

The law requires all tobacco retailers to display prominent warning signs which state: 'It is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18'. These must be at least A3 in size with lettering not less than 36mm high and displayed in a prominent position clearly visible to customers and staff at the point of sale. We find retailers frequently fail to replace notices after shop refurbishment.

Failure to display a warning notice, could mean a fine up to £1,000.

General information on Selling Tobacco, Labelling and Picture Warnings

There is no minimum age for purchasing lighters or matches, however it would be advisable to adopt a voluntary store policy not to sell to persons under 16.

Display Ban

Information about the display ban which came into force on 6 April 2012.

 

Precautions and Diligence

It is a defence if you can show you took 'all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence' to avoid committing an offence. This means having a system of control and making sure that it operates properly. What is 'reasonable' will depend on the size of the business and the number of staff employed.

You should

  • Display the notices and regularly check them
  • Ensure your staff are adequately trained and reminded on the law and how to deal with under age requests Records of training should be kept. New and young staff may need closer supervision. If they ask for a date of birth, hesitant or delayed responses should alert them. Staff can be prosecuted for selling as well as the owner of the business and they should be aware of this.
  • Most businesses adopt a policy of 'No ID, No Sale'. If a person looks under 21 ask them to produce ID to prove that they are 18. You will need to provide guidance on what proof of age cards are acceptable, and how to check them.
  • A 'refused sales log' will provide evidence that youngsters are being turned away.
  • Staff, especially those under 18, will need support if they are refusing sales, and we recommend that staff under 18 are not left unsupervised at the till.

Proof of Age Cards

There are several ways youngsters can prove their age, the following are reliable;

  • A Passport
  • A photo driving licence
  • A Citizencard
  • A Validate card

Statutory Tobacco Notices

This poster is a legal requirement and must be prominently displayed in the shop.

It must be at least A3 in size with lettering not less than 36mm high and displayed in a prominent position clearly visible to customers and staff at the point of sale.

Test Purchasing

In appropriate cases we will use young volunteers to attempt to buy tobacco products. These are our underage tobacco test purchase results from retail premises.

Year Attempts Sales
2012/2013 19 attempts 5 sales (26%)
2011/2012 41 attempts 3 sales (8%)
2010/2011 48 attempts 2 sales (4.17%)
2009/2010 49 attempts 5 sales (10%)
2008/2009 40 attempts 10 sales (25%)

Our underage tobacco test purchase results from tobacco vending machines.

Year Attempts Sales
2010/2011 17 attempts 13 sales (76%)
 

Increased sanctions for illegal tobacco sales to young people

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008

The purpose of this legislation is to tackle the persistent illegal sale of tobacco products to young people under the age of 18 years. It is envisaged that the sanctions available are likely to be used only in extreme circumstances and only where there has been evidence of previous illegal sales. These new sanctions can be imposed by a Magistrates’ Court IF you or your staff repeatedly sells tobacco products or cigarette papers to young people under the age of 18 years in addition to the penalties that already exist i.e. a fine of up to £2500.

Remember that you, as the owner of the business, are liable for the actions of your staff. Legal action may be taken against you even if you did not sell the product yourself.

What are the new sanctions

A Local Authority such as Hampshire County Council may apply to a Magistrates’ Court for a restricted premises order or a restricted sale order or in certain circumstances both to be made.

A restricted premises order means that the retail business at the location where the offences took place is prohibited from selling tobacco products for a period of up to 12 months – to be determined by the court. This means that NO sales of tobacco or tobacco papers may take place from business premises. This does not affect other businesses within the same group or chain. For example where a National Company is the subject of a restrictive premises order, it will apply only to the specific location where the illegal sales have taken place.

A restricted sale order means that a named person within a business is prohibited from selling tobacco or from having any management role in any premises relating to tobacco sales within a business for a period of 12 months - to be determined by the court. This means that the business premises may still sell tobacco products but the named individual may not. The order will apply to the named individual regardless of where they are employed. You should therefore be aware when recruiting staff to your business that a person who is the subject of a restrictive sales order MAY NOT sell tobacco products from any premises; including yours as their new employer. This is a matter that you need to see to confirm when recruiting new staff for example via references.

What triggers a sanction?

In deciding what type of order is appropriate, Hampshire County Council will consider all of the circumstances surrounding the illegal sales. A restrictive premise order is likely to have a severe impact upon a business; due consideration will be given to this fact.

Where a person is convicted of a making an illegal sale to a young person under the age of 18 years (or where a sale has taken place from a vending machine), and where, on at least two other occasions within a 2 year period, the person has committed other similar offences (these do not need to have resulted in a conviction) in relation to the particular premises a sanction may be applied for. This may relate to either premises or to a named person.

Where for example a business or individual has received and accepted a simple caution or a warning letter from Hampshire County Council in respect of an illegal sale of tobacco, these may be considered as ‘similar offences’ for the purposes of the order.

If however, Hampshire County Council has investigated an illegal sale and taken no further action as a result of that investigation, this will not ‘ count’ as one of the two other occasions within a two year period.

Can I appeal?

If your business is the subject of a restricted premises order or an individual restricted sale order you may make representations to the court about why the order should not be made if:

You did not receive a notice from Hampshire County Council that an application had been made to the court and, as a result, you had no chance to tell the court why the order should not be made.

The court may then decide to vary the order or to discharge it entirely.

What happens if I don’t comply with the sanction?

If you sell tobacco or cigarette papers (to anyone) when there is a restricted premises order on the business and it would be reasonable for you to know that the order was in place then you commit an offence.

The maximum penalty for this is a fine of £20,000.

If you or your business is the subject of a restricted sales/premises order and you sell tobacco or cigarette papers (to anyone) then you commit an offence.

Can I sell the business when there is a restricted premises order still in force?

You can, but the order will remain in force for the new owner until the end of the period specified in the banning order. This means that if the prohibition was for a period of 6 months and you sold the business after 4 months, the new owners would be unable to sell tobacco to cigarette papers for 2 months until the end of the 6 months ban period.

A restricted premises order is a local land charge which means that the restriction is noted on the land registry.

What will Trading Standards do?

Remember that these sanctions are intended to be used against those businesses that persistently break the law.

Trading Standards acknowledge that the majority of businesses want to comply with the law; but they will still test businesses by conducting test purchase operations. To assist the majority of those that wish to comply, and who value training their staff as a key aspect of getting it right’, Local Authorities have been requested to issue a report after each test purchase operation to the business giving details of success (no sale made).

 

Vending Machines

It has been illegal to sell tobacco from an automatic vending machine since 1 October 2011. The prohibition came in the Protection from Tobacco (Sales from Vending Machines) (England) Regulations 2010.

Liability for a breach of this prohibition will fall on the person who controls or manages the premises in which the automatic machine is located.

The maximum fine is £2,500

Further information about the law on cigarette vending machines

 
 
Tobacco warning notice

Contact

Help us stamp out underage sales of age restricted products

Trading Standards
Montgomery House
Monarch Way
Winchester SO22 5PW

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