28/02/2014 - Permalink

Retailers succeed in preventing cigarette sales to children, but fail on alcohol

Related topics: Business and economic growth / Community / My area

Shropshire Council’s public protection service has today revealed mixed results following two days of underage sales test purchasing in the county. 

Cigarette and alcohol purchases were recently attempted by volunteer teenagers, accompanied by officers of the service, to test retailers’ willingness to sell these age- restricted items to volunteers under the age of 18. 

In Oswestry, Ellesmere and Wem, a 16-year-old female volunteer visited eight shops in an attempt to purchase cigarettes and was refused on each occasion, with all except one business requiring the production of a proof of age card, as recommended by the council. 

However, from 11 visits made in Whitchurch, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Bridgnorth and Albrighton, the same girl and, separately, a 16-year-old boy, were able to purchase alcoholic drinks in five shops without any challenge to their age.  Some of the shops that sold were supposedly operating a ‘Challenge 25’ policy. 

Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s service manager for safer and stronger communities within public protection, said: 

“Whilst we are pleased with the high level of challenges and therefore refusals in those shops where we attempted to purchase cigarettes, we are extremely disappointed that almost half of the shops sold alcohol to our volunteers; the fact that some were claiming to operate under the Challenge 25 principle gives us a particular cause for concern. 

“The premises we visit are, where possible, selected beforehand based on previous poor performance, and in respect of alcohol sales, in particular, from intelligence provided by police colleagues.  This enables us to target our valuable and ever-decreasing resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.  The 100% refusals on the attempted cigarette purchases gives us a clear indication that the advice and enforcement work carried out previously on cigarette sales has been successful, and retailers are taking their responsibilities seriously.  With respect to alcohol, it appears we are correctly targeting the poorer-performing retailers and the results give us a clear steer that we need to continue our work in this area.” 

Frances Darling added:

“Following these recent test purchases and where appropriate to do so, Fixed Penalty Notices have been arranged through the Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams for those individuals who have made the sales and written warnings will be issued to all the business owners.

“In one case, where there have now been two consecutive sales, further enquiries are underway with a view to determining whether formal enforcement action and/or a licence review is appropriate.  Each shop that has sold will be subject to further test-purchasing attempts.  On a positive note, each retailer who refused to sell will receive written confirmation congratulating them that their staff took the right steps in challenging for proof of age and refusing to sell.” 

Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member responsible for public protection, said: 

“Everyone knows about the 18 age restriction on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.  It is there to help prevent children from taking up smoking and to reduce alcohol consumption at an early age.  There is no getting away from the fact that smoking and drinking impacts on both the health of young people now and in later life, and adds a significant burden to our health services.  Furthermore, local communities continue to suffer from the problems that are created by alcohol-induced anti-social behaviour.  It is clearly totally unacceptable that children were able to buy alcohol in five premises; however, it is extremely encouraging that the vast majority of the businesses did in fact challenge the two volunteers who attempted to buy the age-restricted products on this occasion.  I would strongly urge retailers to adopt, fully implement and put into practice a ‘Challenge 25’ approach to age-restricted sales to avoid making any mistakes.  Retailers need to be aware that repeated sales may mean that they face prosecution and/or suspension and removal of their licence to sell alcohol; this could have a significant financial impact on their business.” 

Businesses who want advice and guidance on understanding the law and applying it in practice can contact the business support and locality working team within public protection on 0345 678 9000.