Shopkeepers must be safeguarded to uphold smoking ban, retailers warn

Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

LONDON: 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’s proposal to ban young people from ever being able to legally smoke tobacco cleared its first Commons hurdle on Tuesday.

MPs voted 383 to 67, majority 316, to give the Tobacco and Vapes Bill a second reading. The legislation, seen by the Prime Minister as a key part of his long-term legacy, would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1 2009, with the aim of creating a “smoke-free” generation.

Bira chief executive Andrew Goodacre said: “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.

“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: “Enforcing a generational ban on tobacco products will require additional training for retailers and their colleagues on new age-related sales procedures that in time will be significantly different from those on other products where ‘Challenge 25’ is an effective and robust policy.

“We are committed to working with the Government and our members on ensuring that communication about the new rules is widespread and clear when measures are introduced in 2027, as confusion about the rules among customers is one of the areas that can cause flashpoints in store and this is a scenario that we want to minimise as much as possible.”

Adrian Simpson, products policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers take their obligations around vapes and cigarettes very seriously and will continue to comply with any requirements around their sale.“It is important that the legislation operates in the same way across the UK as this will help ensure clarity and consistency for customers. “Retailers will look to ensure they comply with the new regulations in a timely manner.”