Page last updated at 07:00 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 08:00 UK

Shops 'flout cigarette sales law'

Cigarettes on sale
Teenagers are still able to buy cigarettes

A fifth of corner shops in England flout the law and sell cigarettes to teenagers and young children, trading standards officers have said.

Fines for shopkeepers are so low - less than £100 - that they do not act as an effective deterrent, they added.

Teenage volunteers visited more than 4,000 shops to see if owners would sell them cigarettes without asking for proof of age during a year-long study.

The Association of Convenience Stores said the findings were inaccurate.

Magistrates have said their guidelines discourage heavier fines.

Wrists slapped

One in seven 15-year-olds is a regular smoker and the research indicates plenty of shops are willing to sell cigarettes to under-18s.

The Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (Lacors), the body which oversees the work of trading standards officers across the UK, said the level of fines imposed on offending shopkeepers is not high enough.

Lacors chairman Paul Bettison said: "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.

This report fails to paint an accurate picture of what is actually happening... [Most shops] are everyday preventing young people from getting hold of tobacco
Shane Brennan
Association of Convenience Stores

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

"It is time for magistrates to hit those retailers that have a blatant disregard of the law and children's health with higher fines."

The Magistrates' Association has said some of its members are unhappy that sentencing guidelines discourage them from imposing heavier fines.

But retailers say the findings of the study are not accurate.

Shane Brennan, from the Association of Convenience Stores, told the BBC: "This report fails to paint an accurate picture of what is actually happening for the responsible majority of shops out there in the country, who are every day preventing young people from getting hold of tobacco".

In Scotland, the Parliament's health committee has recommended a law change to make it illegal for under-18s to buy tobacco.

The committee has also backed plans by the government in Edinburgh to ban the display of cigarettes and outlaw tobacco vending machines.

Scottish ministers have said they want to cut the proportion of young people who smoke to less than 23% by 2012.

The findings on under-age cigarette sales in England come as the government launched an anti-smoking advertising campaign.

It features children describing their fears about their parents' nicotine addiction.



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