Fears voiced over phased generational ban

Tobacco industry lays out concerns over new legislation

TMA director Ruper Lewis addressed delegates at the SGF's crime seminar.
TMA director Ruper Lewis addressed delegates at the SGF’s crime seminar.

THE Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) has spoken out about independent retailers’ concerns at the prospect of a phased generational ban on buying tobacco products.

The TMA claims retailers believe there is a strong likelihood that the measure will lead to a further escalation in anti-social behaviour against them.

The proposal put forward by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to ban the sale of tobacco products to anybody born on or after 1 January 2009.

This will effectively raise the smoking age by one year, every year, until it eventually applies to the whole population.

Although it is a devolved matter, the Scottish Government has signalled it will follow suit.

But the TMA says such a policy would be a mistake, with far-reaching consequences that have not properly been considered.

TMA director Rupert Lewis spoke about the issue at the Scottish Grocers’ Federation crime seminar at Hampden Stadium on 14 March.

He said: “The burden of enforcing a phased generational ban will fall squarely on the shoulders of retailers, not consumers, and they will feel the full force of its impact.”

He pointed out that within a year of a proposed ban coming into force (likely to be 1 January 2027), situations will arise where one 18-year-old born in 2008 will be eligible to buy tobacco, while another person born just weeks later in 2009 will be prohibited from doing so.

Lewis said the phased generational ban would be a significant departure from the consensus that you are legally an adult when you reach the age of 18.

And he claimed the proposal ignored long-running, successful, proof-of-age schemes that support enforcing the existing law on age-restricted sales.

The director said: “Fast forward a few years, and retailers will have to act as ‘judge and jury’ over which 28 or 29 or 30-year-olds (ever increasing in age) are allowed to buy tobacco or not.”

He claimed the only way retail staff will be able to ensure they are not breaking the law will be to ask any consumers who want to buy tobacco to present photo ID.

And he voiced concerns that proxy purchasing would become a daily challenge for retailers to detect and enforce.

In due course, he added, it would become even more complicated, when two or more customers enter a store and retail staff find themselves being able to sell tobacco to one 36-year-old but not a 35-year-old.

Lewis also warned: “A phased generational ban would hand more and more of the Scottish tobacco market to criminals every year and threaten to fuel the profits of organised criminal gangs.”

He concluded that the TMA hoped the Scottish Government would take a more pragmatic approach, with stronger enforcement action against anyone who sells cheap, illegal tobacco, alongside more targeted-education campaigns.

If there is to be an age ban, Lewis said it should be a fixed one, that retailers would be able to credibly enforce, rather than one that changed every year.