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The Law on Selling Tobacco

On this page you will find guidance on selling tobacco.

This guidance is based on the most commonly-asked questions we receive from retailers. For further guidance please consult the official Trading Standards guidance.

Since 1st October 2007 it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under 18 years of age – this includes cigarettes, cigars, roll-your-own and pipe tobacco as well as cigarette rolling papers. Selling any of these products to someone under 18 years of age could result in a fine of £2,500.

Any store caught selling tobacco to young people under 18 three times within a two year period, one of which results in a criminal conviction, will face a restricted premises order (RPO) or a restricted sales order (RSO). An RPO penalises the store for up to one year, while an RSO penalises the person who made the sale - prohibiting them from selling tobacco in any premises for up to one year. Breaching the terms of either order could result in a fine of £20,000. Written warnings of cautions will be counted as two of a store's three "strikes".

All retailers of tobacco products are required to display a statutory notice visible at the point of sale. Failure to display the correct notice can attract a fine of £1,000.

  • It is legal for a person under 18 years of age to sell tobacco, but we advise that under-18s are supervised as refusing sales can be difficult
  • It is illegal to sell loose cigarettes, they must be sold in their original packaging of 10, 20 or 25 with the required health warnings. The maximum fine for selling loose cigarettes is £1,000.
  • Cigarettes and tobacco products sold in the UK must carry the fiscal mark to show the correct tax has been paid. Retailers caught selling cigarettes without the fiscal mark could be fined up to £5,000
  • It is legal for an adult to buy tobacco on behalf of a minor (apart from in Scotland where it is illegal) – see our campaign against proxy purchasing.
  • It is legal for someone under 18 to attempt to buy tobacco (apart from in Scotland where it is illegal)
  • Responsibility for upholding the minimum age laws rests entirely with retailers and their shop staff. It is vital that the law is upheld and that tobacco is not sold to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Always ask for proof-of-age from any customer who might be under 18. When in doubt, remember the ‘No ID No Sale’ message.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Passport
  • Photo driver’s licence
  • CitizenCard
  • ‘Prove It’ Portman card
  • Young Scot (in Scotland)
  • Validate card

You can get information about acceptable forms of proof-of-age here.

Fake ID: A good way to spot fake ID is to run your finger over the laminate surface. On genuine ID the surface should be smooth. On many fake IDs there are ridges along the card’s surface. Look for the PASS hologram - this is a scheme backed by the Home Office and if the card carries this hologram you can be sure its authentic.

 

 

Don’t embarrass the young person – be tactful when asking for proof of age and apologetic if you have to refuse a sale

Make sure the customer knows it’s not personal - explain that you are only doing your job and following the law. Be polite at all times, even if the customer gets annoyed

Remain professional - keep the counter between you and the customer, do not raise your voice and avoid prolonged eye contact

If you or a staff member are threatened or physically assaulted, do not retaliate but call the police as soon as it is safe to do so

Keep a refusals register – these are supplied in the ‘No ID No Sale’ packs. Keeping a note of occasions when you or any member of your staff have refused a sale to young customers will help you demonstrate to Trading Standards that you routinely ask for proof of age from younger customers

 

 

 

 

Trading Standards conduct test purchasing operations and the penalties for failing are severe. Although many Trading Standards departments conduct fair enforcement activity, many encourage their officers to conduct ‘sting’ operations to try to catch out retailers and shop workers making under-age sales. Also, your local Trading Standards department may not even inform you when you have successfully passed a test purchase.

If a young customer wants to buy an age restricted product ask their age - try to judge if their answer is truthful or not. If they respond that they are aged 18 or over, always ask them politely to prove it.. When customers are in a group, the person buying tobacco is the person who hands over the money. Trading Standards sometimes use minors shopping with adults in sting operations and retailers have failed test purchases because the minor handed over the money, despite the accompanying adult being over 18.

 

This guidance is based on the most commonly-asked questions we receive from retailers. For further guidance please consult the official Trading Standards guidance.

This guidance applies to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

 

I want to sell tobacco. How do I get a display unit?

 

Most retailers like to display tobacco on a (gantry) unit behind the counter. This allows customers to see the product range available and is secure. Two companies who supply gantries are JTI (01932 372000) and Imperial (0117 963 6636.) Give either a call and explain you are opening a shop and would like to discuss the possibility of installing a (gantry) unit.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 15:28
 

What is the minimum legal age of sale?

 

It is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under 18 years of age – this includes cigarettes, cigars, roll-your-own and pipe tobacco as well as cigarette rolling papers.

The minimum age increased from 16 years in 2007. Selling any tobacco products to someone under 18 years of age could result in a fine of £2,500 and repeatedly selling to under-age smokers could mean losing your right to sell tobacco.

Last Updated on Friday, 23 July 2010 10:05
 

Do I need a licence to sell tobacco?

 

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, retailers DO NOT need a licence to sell tobacco but if you break the law by selling tobacco to someone under 18 years of age, you could have your right to sell tobacco removed – this is known as negative licensing.

In Scotland, as of 1st October 2011, retailers are legally required to register to sell tobacco. Anyone selling tobacco who is not registered will face a fine of up to £20,000 or 6 months in jail. See more information here.

Wherever you are, selling tobacco carries many responsibilities. Read through our quick check-list to make sure you know and understand the law:


Statutory Notice
All retailers of tobacco products are required to display a statutory notice visible at the point of sale. You can order a copy of the statutory notice here. Failure to display the correct notice can attract a fine of £1,000.

Loose cigarettes
It is illegal to sell loose cigarettes, they must be sold in their original packaging of 10, 20 or 25 with the required health warnings. The maximum fine for selling loose cigarettes is £1,000.

UK-duty paid
Cigarettes and tobacco products sold in the UK must carry the fiscal mark to show the correct tax has been paid. Retailers caught selling cigarettes without the fiscal mark could be fined up to £5,000.

Under-age and proxy
In Scotland, it is illegal for an adult to buy tobacco on behalf of a minor. It is not illegal elsewhere in the UK. If someone under 18 years of age attempts to buy tobacco, they are not breaking any law.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 November 2011 10:01
 

Is there a minimum age for staff to sell tobacco?

 

It is legal for a person under 18 years of age to sell tobacco, but we advise that under-18s are supervised as refusing sales to people in the same age range can be extremely difficult and young people are often more easily intimidated.

 

What are the penalties for making under-age sales?

 

Any store caught selling tobacco to young people under 18 three times within a two year period, one of which results in a criminal conviction, will face a Restricted Premises Order (RPO) or a restricted sales order (RSO).
An RPO penalises the store for up to one year, while an RSO penalises the person who made the sale - prohibiting them from selling tobacco in any premises for up to one year. Breaching the terms of either order could result in a fine of £20,000.

Written warnings of cautions will be counted as two of a store's three "strikes".

Last Updated on Friday, 23 July 2010 10:07
 

How can I protect my shop from under-age sales?

 

Responsibility for upholding the minimum age laws rests entirely with retailers and their shop staff. It is vital that the law is upheld and that tobacco is not sold to anyone under the age of 18.

Always ask for proof-of-age from any customer who might be under 18. When in doubt, remember the ‘No ID No Sale’ message.

As a shop owner, you are responsible for ensuring your staff are trained. They must know the law and know how to uphold it. A free training programme is available here.

It is important to log any training you provide your staff. We also encourage retailers to keep a refusals register, although this can be busy in a small shop.
See our tips for refusing sales.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 November 2011 10:13
 

Who checks that we are not making under-age sales?

 

Trading Standards conduct test purchasing operations and the penalties for failing are severe. Although many Trading Standards departments conduct fair enforcement activity, some encourage their officers to conduct ‘sting’ operations to try to catch out retailers and shop workers making under-age sales. Also, your local Trading Standards department may not even inform you when you have successfully passed a test purchase.

When in doubt, ask the customer’s age and if they claim to be 18 or over, politely ask them if they have anything to prove it.

When customers are in a group, the person buying tobacco is the person who hands over the money. Trading Standards sometimes use minors shopping with adults in sting operations and retailers have failed test purchases because the minor handed over the money, despite the accompanying adult being over 18.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 November 2011 10:14
 

Do you have any tips for refusing sales?

 

Don’t embarrass the young person – be tactful when asking for proof of age and apologetic if you have to refuse a sale.

Make sure the customer knows it’s not personal - explain that you are only doing your job and following the law. Be polite at all times, even if the customer gets annoyed

Remain professional - keep the counter between you and the customer, do not raise your voice and avoid prolonged eye contact.

If you or a staff member are threatened or physically assaulted, do not retaliate but call the police as soon as it is safe to do so.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 November 2011 10:21
 

How can I spot fake ID?

 

Make sure you and your staff are aware of the various forms of acceoptable ID. Do not accept ID if it is not on this list, or if you think it might be fake.

Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • Passport

  • Photo driver’s licence

  • CitizenCard

  • ‘Prove It’ Portman card

  • Young Scot (in Scotland)

  • Validate card

You can get more information about acceptable forms of proof-of-age here.

Fake ID: A good way to spot fake ID is to run your finger over the laminate surface. On genuine ID the surface should be smooth. On many fake IDs there are ridges along the card’s surface. Look for the PASS hologram - this is a scheme backed by the Home Office and if the card carries this hologram you can be sure its authentic.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 July 2010 04:35