Shops face hardline stance on tobacco

Government unveils 'negative licensing' plans to combat under-age sales

Shops could be banned from selling cigarettes for up to a year in the government's toughest crackdown yet on under-age sales.

Magistrates are to be given powers to stop shops selling tobacco products if they have failed three test purchases over a two-year period.

Shop staff could even find the ban follows them to a new job as the order can apply to the worker as well as the

premises. Flouting the ban would attract a fine of up to £20,000.

Details of the

plans were revealed in a letter from the Department of Health to councils. The regime - detailed in a Home Office briefing paper passed to OLN - is a form of "negative licensing", or system which allows retailers to sell tobacco unless they are proven to have persistently broken the law.

The government had been considering introducing licences for tobacco sales, but dropped the idea after consultation. Retailers have already had to adjust to the law change on the minimum age for buying tobacco, which rose to 18 on Oct 1.

Senior figures in the drinks trade

are stunned by the plans. Bargain Booze joint managing director Matthew Hughes described them as "unnecessarily harsh" and the idea of negative licensing as "completely ludicrous".

"If you're going to legislate, don't do it through ad-hoc amendments. This just puts more pressure on retailers," he said.The law change will be added to the Criminal Justice

& Immigration Bill, which will come into force in October 2008 at the earliest. It will also apply to pubs.

The Home Office has ruled out action against children who attempt to buy tobacco

and adults who buy it on their behalf. Despite pressure from the Association of Convenience Stores, the Home Office said: "We do not feel that it is appropriate to criminalise young people and children for attempting to buy tobacco, and think that the onus should be on retailers to request proof of age if there is any doubt".

The tobacco proposals in brief

Shops will be monitored through Trading Standards test purchasing

Three failures, including one conviction, will result in referral to magistrates

Court has discretion to impose ban of up to 12 months

Ban applied to premises, but can also apply to the individual who made the sale, following them to a new job

Regime to come into force Oct 2008 at the earliest.