Raising the legal age for buying tobacco is welcome but retailers must also be licensed to sell tobacco.

Monday 01 January 2007

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00:01 Monday 1st January  2007


ASH welcomes the Government’s announcement today that the legal age for the purchase of tobacco is to be raised from 16 to 18 but also urges the Government to introduce a licensing system for the sale of tobacco as soon as possible.  Currently retailers are not required to hold a licence to sell tobacco and penalties for breaking the law on the sale of tobacco to minors are weak, and not sufficiently well enforced. [2] In 2004 some 70 per cent of underage English smokers bought their cigarettes from small retailers [3], yet only 50 retailers were fined for selling tobacco to minors in the whole of England and Wales.[2] By contrast, a licensing system would provide a strong disincentive to retailers to flout the law as the ultimate sanction would be the removal of their right to sell tobacco.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

“Raising the legal age for the purchase of tobacco should substantially reduce illegal sales to young teenagers if it is properly enforced  and shows that the Government is serious about tackling youth smoking.  However, increasing the minimum age will not be enough by itself to stop illegal sales and it needs to be backed up by an efficient licensing system to discourage retailers from breaking the law.”



Notes and links:

[1]  ASH’s response to the Government consultation on the raising of the age can be downloaded as a pdf here.  See also ASH press release of 02 October:

[2]  The latest data from the Office for Criminal Justice Reform reveals that in 2004 50 retailers in England and Wales were fined for selling tobacco to minors.  Of these 12 received fines between £151-£200 while only one was fined more than £1000.

[3] The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England Survey 2004 showed that nearly 70% of 11 to 15 year old smokers say they buy their cigarettes from small shops such as corner shops and newsagents.


Contact:  Deborah Arnott on 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available