Tobacco and children
Certain products cannot be supplied to anyone below a certain age - for tobacco products or cigarette papers, this age is 18 years.
Cigarettes must only be sold in quantities of at least 10 and in their original packaging. A notice must be displayed stating it is illegal to sell tobacco products to under 18s.
Young people should always be asked for proof of their age.
In the guide
What the law says
Under this legislation it is an offence for any person to sell tobacco products or cigarette papers to anyone under the age of 18 years. The penalty on conviction is a fine of up to £2,500. 'Tobacco' is broadly defined as including cigarettes, any product containing tobacco for oral or nasal use (for example, snuff) and smoking mixtures used as a substitute for tobacco (for example, herbal cigarettes). 'Cigarettes' include cut tobacco rolled up in paper, tobacco leaf and other material in a form that is capable of immediate use for smoking. If this requirement is breached, the member of staff who made the sale can be held responsible and so can the registered tobacco retailer.
You must only sell cigarettes in quantities of at least ten and in their original packaging. It is an offence to split a pack and to sell in lesser quantities. The penalty on conviction is a fine of up to £1,000.
You must display a notice that states:
The notice must be exhibited in a prominent position readily visible at the point of sale of the tobacco at every retail premises that sells tobacco. The notice must be no less than 297mm x 420mm (A3) and the characters must be no less than 36mm in height. Your local trading standards service or your tobacco supplier may be able to provide a notice for you to use. Failure to display a notice is an offence and the penalty on conviction is a fine of up to £1,000.
If you employ children in your business, it is not illegal for them to sell tobacco products or cigarette papers provided of course that the customer is not under 18. However, leaving unsupervised children selling tobacco is not recommended as they may find it difficult to refuse to sell to their own age group
Tobacco displays in large shops
Retailers must not have tobacco products and smoking related products on permanent, open display - for example on public view on gantries behind the counter. Retailers must make sure that tobacco products and smoking-related products are out of public sight and cannot be seen, even for a short time.
Tobacco price lists
1) Poster style lists (up to A3 in size), which can be permanently on show. The legislation states that these must not exceed 1,250 square centimetres (A3 sized paper falls within the legal size limit).
2) A price list available on request (picture price list), which must not be left on permanent show but which can be shown to any customer who asks for information about tobacco products or smoking-related products. Good practice would suggest that age checks should be carried out before showing the picture price list and requests from children and young people under the age of 18 should be refused.
3) Price labels, which can be placed on shelving, storage units or tobacco jars. One price label is permitted for each product either on the covered shelf where the product is stored or on the front of the storage unit where the particular tobacco product or smoking related product is held pending sale.
Cigarette vending machines
Cigarette lighter refills
Matches and lighters
Register of tobacco retailers
Unregistered retailing of tobacco is an offence punishable by a fine of up to £20,000 and/or imprisonment for a period of up to six months.
Tobacco retailing banning orders
A person banned from retailing tobacco at a premises commits an offence if he retails tobacco at those premises during the period of the ban. The penalty is a fine of up to £20,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months.
Fixed penalty notices
The fixed penalty is £200 (discounted to £150 if paid within time). Failure to pay may result in a prosecution. Repeat offenders can be issued with a fixed penalty which increases with the number of previous enforcement actions.
Verifying a buyer's age
Always ask young people to produce proof of their age. Trading standards services and the government support the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme. There are a number of card issuers in the scheme, including CitizenCard and ValidateUK. The Scottish government endorses the Young Scot card.
Card issuers may supply material for you to display in your shop, telling young people where they can obtain a card. This way, if you have cause to refuse a sale, you can give youngsters some positive information.
If you, or any of your staff, doubt whether a customer is 18 or over, or whether their ID is genuine, refuse to sell them tobacco products or cigarette papers . You don't have to give a reason, and allowing them to persuade you against your better judgement could lead you to commit a criminal offence.
It is an offence for a person under 18 to purchase a tobacco product or cigarette papers and it is also an offence for a person of 18 or over to purchase a tobacco product or cigarette papers on behalf of a person under 18.
Keeping within the law
Offences are subject to the principle of vicarious liability, which means that they can occur even when the registered tobacco retailer is not on the premises. To avoid committing an offence, it is advised that the legislation is brought to the attention of all staff via regular training. It is important that you can prove that your staff have understood what is required of them under the legislation. This can be done by keeping a record of the training and asking the member of staff to sign to say that they have understood it. These records should then be checked and signed on a regular basis by the manager or the owner.
Members of staff should be advised that they themselves will be personally liable if they sell to young persons in breach of the legal requirements.
All refused tobacco products or cigarette papers or cigarette lighter refills sales should be recorded on a refusal sales sheet or a refusal book. Some tills have a refusals system built in. Maintaining a refusal log will strengthen a case for due diligence. Logs should be checked by the owner of the business to ensure that all members of staff are using them. A specimen refusal log is attached below.
If you possess an EPoS system, it may be possible to use it to remind staff via a prompt. Alternatively, stickers can be used over certain product bar codes.
Last reviewed/updated: October 2013