Shopkeepers demand stricter laws on selling tobacco to protect public health - including raising age limit

Calls are being made to increase the age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 in the UK

Shopkeepers are calling for stricter laws on selling tobacco to be introduced to protect people’s health, a new report has said.

People running newsagents, off-licences, convenience stores and petrol stations are in favour of tougher regulation, with many concerned about vaping sales to children, the report found.

Shopkeepers are calling for stricter laws on selling tobacco to be introduced (Photo: Getty Images)

The charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) surveyed 961 small tobacco retailers across the UK. It found that eight out of 10 (81%) agree there should be a mandatory licence scheme in place for selling tobacco to prevent sales to children, stop illegal sales and to give local authorities more power.

An equal proportion also supported mandatory age verification for anyone who looks under 25, which the report said would make enforcement in England easier. Only one in 20 shopkeepers opposed both of these measures.

The survey also revealed that more than half (54%) of retailers believe the age for buying tobacco should be raised from 18 to 21. Asked whether tobacco manufacturers should have to pay a government fee to help people quit and prevent young people from taking up smoking, 73% agreed that they should.

The study also asked why shopkeepers still stock cigarettes and tobacco and found 76% of retailers said they want local smokers to keep using their shops, while 51% said the revenue from tobacco sales is important to their overall profits.

Most shopkeepers agreed that cigarettes alone do not make much profit compared to other items, but stocking it does help increase the chances of customers buying additional products.

Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “To achieve a smoke-free 2030, the government needs to ratchet up regulations to support smokers to quit and to prevent young people starting to smoke.

“Just like the public, the majority of retailers support key measures needed to bring smoking to an end, such as increasing the age of sale, introducing a tobacco licence, and making tobacco manufacturers pay to help smokers quit.

Retailers aren’t anti-regulation; they know that good regulation can make their lives easier by ensuring there’s a level playing field.

“That’s why they want to see the gaping hole in retail regulation closed through the introduction of a mandatory tobacco licence backed up by stronger penalties for breaking the law.”

In terms of e-cigarettes, 51% of retailers said they expect them to become more important to their business in the next decade, but 69% support tighter controls in areas such as colours, cartoon characters and naming e-cigarettes after sweets – all of which appeal to children.

Asked if they are interested in expanding the e-cigarette and vaping side of their business, 36% of the retailers surveyed in England said they are interested and 37% said they are not.

The report also found that 71% of retailers support bigger fines for breaking the law, 81% back more regular checks by trading standards, and 79% support closure orders for retailers that repeatedly break laws.

It concluded that the government “should not be deterred from introducing new tobacco control measures because of concerns about their impact on local retailers”.

“Among retailers, support for new measures far outweighs opposition, even for measures which will directly affect daily sales of tobacco products including the proposed increase in the age of sale from 18 to 21.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The government continues to enforce strong regulations around the sale of cigarettes which help smokers to quit, and protect future generations from starting this lethal habit.

“We are currently considering the wide range of independent recommendations as set out in the Khan Review (published in June), which includes further regulation. We will provide a further update in due course.”

John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, added: “A mandatory licence to sell tobacco and age verification for anyone who looks under 25 would make it easier for trading standards to enforce the law, to the benefit of reputable retailers.”