‘Mystery shopper’ scheme to tackle under-age tobacco sales in the East of England

A library photo of a shop assistant reaching for a packet of cigarettes.

A library photo of a shop assistant reaching for a packet of cigarettes. - Credit: PA

A scheme which aims to help independent retailers comply with the age restriction on tobacco sales is being rolled out across the East of England.

It will involve 18- and 19-year-old “mystery shoppers” making test purchases as more than 400 retailers across the region to check on the adoption of the “No ID, No Sale” policy when dealing with purchasers who are only just of legal age to buy tobacco.

The initiative – part of the Responsible Tobacco Retailing programme and jointly funded by major tobacco manufacturers Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco – was piloted last year in the North West where the proportion of retailers identified as being at risk of non-compliance fell from 52% to 45% during the campaign.

From October it is being extended to the East of England where retailers failing to require the mystery shoppers to produce proof-of-age identification will be offered free accredited training. This will be delivered by former Trading Standards officers and will cover the sale of all age-restricted products, not just tobacco.

Tony Allen, managing director of Under Age Sales, which specialises in helping retailers prevent under age sales, said: “First and foremost, the purpose of the Responsible Tobacco Retailing programme is to reduce youth access to tobacco, an issue which all involved parties are in agreement must be tackled.

“We are by no means trying to catch retailers out with the test purchases; far from it. We simply want to identify those that may be at risk of selling tobacco to children and help them take the necessary steps to protect themselves.”

Paul Baxter, chief executive of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), added: “NFRN members make every effort to retail responsibly but it’s not easy for shopkeepers to judge the ages of people coming into their stores, so making sure you stay within the law when it comes to underage sales is a constant challenge.

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“We therefore welcome this new initiative, which forms part of the Responsible Tobacco Retailing programme, and would encourage any retailer who is identified as at risk to take advantage of the free of charge training.”