Retailers warn of ‘potential pressures’ from enforcing smoking ban

6 October 2023, 09:44

Smoking crackdown
Smoking crackdown. Picture: PA

The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) has raised concerns about the pressures of the enforcing new regulations on retailers.

The idea of eradicating smoking is “laudable” but must come with a strategy that safeguards the shopkeepers tasked with upholding the regulations, retailers have warned.

The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), which works with more than 6,000 businesses across the UK, said the potential pressures of enforcing the smoking ban being placed on retailers could lead to “flashpoints of abuse to people who work in the shops – a worrying trend that is already on the rise”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described his plan to increase the legal smoking age annually as the “biggest public health intervention in a generation”.

Under the plan announced in his Conservative Party conference speech, the proposed legislation for England will make it an offence for anyone born on or after January 1, 2009 to be sold tobacco products.

This has the potential to phase out smoking in young people almost completely as early as 2040.

Number 10 said a consultation on vaping will also examine restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that they are no longer targeted at children, regulating sale displays of vapes, regulating packaging and restricting the sale of disposable vapes.

Bira chief executive Andrew Goodacre said: “Bira acknowledges the recent announcement regarding the smoking ban, and while we understand the intentions behind it, we would like to address the practical implications of this decision from a retailer’s perspective.

“Placing the responsibility of verifying customers’ ages squarely on shopkeepers could potentially lead to several challenges. In addition to concerns about retail crime and the potential for increased abuse from customers who are reluctant to be ID’d, this policy may inadvertently contribute to a rise in shoplifting cases.

“The idea of eradicating smoking in years to come is laudable and hard to disagree with. All we ask is that the regulations are communicated very clearly and when it is implemented.”

Mr Goodacre added: “We are also concerned about the pressures of enforcement being placed on retailers, which may well lead to flashpoints of abuse to people who work in the shops – a worrying trend that is already on the rise.

“In the longer term, we will see retailers stop selling cigarettes as demand falls, and there must be concerns that the black market will expand, and may well lead to even more retail crime.

“We firmly believe that the onus of enforcing smoking regulations should not solely fall on the shoulders of shopkeepers. It is essential to consider additional measures and resources to support retailers in their efforts to comply with these new rules effectively.

“We call upon the relevant authorities to work closely with retailers to develop a comprehensive strategy that promotes compliance while safeguarding the wellbeing and safety of shopkeepers and their staff. At Bira, we remain committed to supporting independent retailers and championing their concerns.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “We will work with the Government on how this policy will be implemented and enforced.

“Our sector has a proud record on preventing underage purchases, and we will continue to provide the advice members need to comply with whatever age restriction policy parliament decides on.”

Adrian Simpson, retail product policy advisor at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers will comply with any requirements around the sale of tobacco, and take their obligations around these products very seriously.”

By Press Association