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Business advice leaflet

Cigarette lighter refills and solvents

Solvent abuse is the inhaling (sniffing) of fumes given off by a wide range of solvent-based products, including cigarette lighter refills and aerosols. The supply of these products to people under the age of 18 is controlled by the Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999 and the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985. The penalties for offences under this legislation are a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months' imprisonment.

Marker pens, aerosols, anti-freeze and nail varnish are household products that are classed as solvents and can be abused. Obvious signs of an abuser include the smell of solvents, slurred speech and spots/sores around the mouth.

There are steps traders can take including refusing such sales to under 18s, asking for proof of age, recording refused sales, and training staff.

In the guide
The legislation
Penalties
Enforcement of the law
What is an intoxicating substance?
How you can recognise if someone is an abuser?
Keeping within the law

The legislation
The Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999 make it an offence to supply any cigarette lighter refill canister containing butane or a substance with butane as a constituent part to any person under the age of 18.

The Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 makes it an offence to supply, or offer to supply, a substance to a person who you know, or have reasonable cause to believe, is under the age of 18 and if you know, or have reasonable cause to believe, the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled by that person to cause intoxication. An offence also exists where you supply, or offer to supply, to a person who you know, or have reasonable cause to believe, is acting on behalf of someone under the age of 18 and you know, or have reasonable cause to believe, that the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled by a someone under the age of 18 to cause intoxification.

Penalties
If you are convicted of the offence of supplying a cigarette lighter refill canister containing butane or a substance with butane as a constituent part in contravention of the Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999, the penalty is up to six months' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

If you are convicted of an offence under the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985, the penalty is up to six months' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

Enforcement of the law
Trading standards services enforce the law in the following ways:

  • by providing advice on compliance with the law to retailers
  • by investigating complaints made by consumers or by other traders
  • by using young volunteers, in appropriate cases, to attempt to buy age restricted products. They behave as ordinary customers, under the supervision of a trading standards professional. Strict guidelines ensure that the exercise is fair. If a sale takes place, legal proceedings may be commenced
  • check your own trading standards service's enforcement policy for more information

What is an intoxicating substance?
Many products, including household items, can be classed as solvents and can be abused. Some of those most commonly sniffed are:

  • solvent-based glue
  • dry cleaning fluid
  • correction fluid and thinner
  • marker pens
  • aerosols* (for example, furniture polish, deodorant, air fresheners, hair spray, pain relief spray)
  • 'cold start' and anti-freeze
  • nail varnish and varnish remover

This list is not exhaustive and there are many more products open to abuse.

[* The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 prohibits the sale of aerosol paint to persons under the age of 16. See our leaflet 'Sales of aerosol spray paints'.]

How you can recognise if someone is an abuser?
Some signs can be obvious:

  • the smell of glue or solvents on the person's clothes
  • slurred speech and behaviour similar to drunkenness
  • spots and sores around the mouth and nose

Other indications that you must be alert to are:

  • the frequent purchase or bulk purchase of solvents by a customer
  • the purchase of plastic bags and solvents at the same time

However, solvents may be sold to persons under the age of 18 for their normal intended use.

Keeping within the law
Refuse to sell cigarette lighter refills if the purchaser is under the age of 18. Refuse to sell solvents if the purchaser is under the age of 18 and cannot give you a genuine reason for buying the product.

Always ask young people to produce proof of their age. Trading standards services and the government support the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). You can be confident that a card issued under the scheme and bearing the PASS hologram is an acceptable proof of age. There are a number of card issuers in the scheme. A driving licence photocard or passport is also acceptable.

Keep a book to record details of refused sales.

Identify the sensitive products in your shop and consider moving your displays of glues and solvents nearer to the counter.

Display dummy packs or place such items behind the counter, so that people have to ask for them.

Make your staff aware of the solvent-based products in your shop and advise them on the action they must take. 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 management or the owner.

All refusals 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 any defence you may have.  Logs should be checked by the manager/owner to ensure that all members of staff are using them. A specimen refusal log is attached below.

Refusal log (Word 31KB)
Refusal log (PDF 109KB)

If you possess an EPoS system, it may be possible to use it to remind staff of age restrictions via a prompt. Alternatively, stickers can be used over certain product bar codes.

Display posters showing age limits and a statement regarding the refusal of such sales. This may deter potential purchasers and act as a reminder to staff.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.

Relevant legislation
Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985
Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999
Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003

Last reviewed/updated: February 2013

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