Good to tackle ‘pathetic’ enforcement of underage cigarette sales law – but don’t expect miracles

Wednesday 13 September 2000


Press release 13th September 2000 immediate


Good to tackle ‘pathetic’ enforcement of underage cigarette sales law ­ but don’t expect miracles


As the government moves to crack down on retailers that sell cigarettes to kids, ASH highlighted the ‘pathetic’ level of enforcement of the law in this area.  A 1999 study for ASH [1] showed that the value of cigarette sales to under-16s is about 2000 times greater than the total fines incurred by retailers that broke the law.  Clive Bates, Director of ASH, commented:


“This is an area where the law is routinely broken and some disreputable retailers turn a blind eye.   The law is so weak that it doesn’t actually require local authorities to enforce it, merely to report on what they have done ­ even if that is nothing at all.”


“At the moment, some rogue shopkeepers can make good profits by selling illegally to children reasonably confident that it’s a one-way bet and detection and prosecution is a very remote risk.  Hopefully, this will shift the odds and make it less attractive to sell cigarettes to kids.”


But ASH warned the government not to expect tighter enforcement of the law to lead to a big drop in teenage smoking:


“If they are determined to smoke, teenagers will find cigarettes somehow, perhaps by having an older friend do the buying,perhaps by stealing, or even by finding the one retailer still not deterred.  A crackdown at the local shop might mean an informal playground market develops where young kids buy from older kids,” said Bates.


ASH emphasised that the enforcement protocol had to be seen in the context of the broad package of measures aimed at reducing the pressure to smoke.  The more important side of the government’s tobacco strategy is to reduce demand among teenagers rather than interrupt supply.  This means the emphasis should be on banning tobacco advertising and marketing, raising the price through taxation, help for people (kids and adults) who want to quit and raising awareness through good TV campaigns.


“If kids want to smoke, then nothing much will stop them.  The key is to stop them wanting it so badly by making smoking seem much less appealing.  The best approach is to ban tobacco advertising, keep the price high and have good anti-tobacco advertising campaigns that aren’t patronising and make sense to teenagers,” said Bates.


“To influence young teenagers, you probably need to target the twenty-somethings and other adults because smoking is about wanting to grow up.  These are the role models for teenagers and if they are turning away from smoking it will have a greater impact on the kids than telling them that smoking is an adult-only activity,which might actually make it more appealing,” said Bates.


[1]Action on Smoking and Health, Enforcement action to reduce underage tobacco sales, March 1999


Press Contact: Amanda Sandford or Clive Bates 020 7739 5902 (w) 0468 791 237 (m)