Crackdown on under-age sales and illegal tobacco in Northumberland

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Northumberland County Council is creating a new post to support its work to crack down on under-age sales and illicit tobacco.

During his update to a meeting of the authority’s licensing committee on January 26, Tony Dunn, a senior trading standards officer, explained that a new initiative, jointly funded with public health, will see a fair trading officer recruited.

Explaining the work that takes place on under-age sales, he said that the main areas of focus relate to alcohol, tobacco, fireworks, and knives and corrosive products, although he said that knife sales were not a major issue in Northumberland, as they are in some larger cities.

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During 2018-19, the team carried out seven test purchase operations, visiting 44 premises, which resulted in five under-age sales. So far in 2019/20, there have been three operations, visiting 18 premises, resulting in five sales.

However, Mr Dunn admitted later in the meeting: “Test purchasing is not always as effective as it used to be, because people are aware of it and intelligence suggests that they only sell to kids they know.”

This year also saw shops on caravan parks targeted for the first time, with five premises yielding three under-age sales, and given this ‘fairly high ratio’, this operation will followed up in 2020-21.

Other operations, checking on the use of Challenge 21 or 25 policies, resulted in a 60% fail rate and while this is not illegal, it can indicate that premises are not abiding by the conditions of their licences.

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Illicit alcohol and tobacco are another major focus, given that youngsters are often targeted by those selling them and that they can cause even more harm to children given the products are unregulated and often unsafe.

For example, illicit cigarettes will be sold in singles or 10-packs, whereas the law restricts legal sales to 20-packs, with price having an impact on buying habits.

The committee heard that there isn’t a large problem with illicit tobacco being sold from shops in Northumberland, as there is elsewhere in the region, but the majority is via ‘tab houses’, which causes difficulties for officers given the legal process to be followed in order to enter a private residence.

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