Licences and permissions Underage sales

Tobacco products

It is illegal to sell tobacco or tobacco related products (e.g. tobacco papers) to anyone under the age of 18.

It is illegal to break open a pack and sell single cigarettes to anyone - child or adult. Tobacco should always be sold in its original packaging. This packaging will have statutory warnings and information printed on it.

A statutory warning sign must be displayed if tobacco or tobacco products are being sold. The size and wording of this sign is strictly controlled. The sign must say:

  • It is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18

Copies of the sign are available free of charge from the Trading Standards Service.

If you are not sure whether a customer is over the age of 18 (or 21 if Challenge 21 policy is in place) you must ask for proof of age (passport/photo driving licence/PASS accredited proof of age card). If you are still unsure the sale should be refused. You may wish to record the details in a refusals register to show that you are refusing sales.

If the child says "they are for someone else" that makes no difference (even if it is true) as the law forbids all sales to children.

Vending Machines

In October 2011  it became illegal to sell cigarettes (or any other tobacco product) from an automatic vending machine in England to any person, regardless of age.

It is advisable to ensure that your staff are fully trained in order to prevent them making sales of age restricted products. Any training they receive should be documented within a record of training form.

You commit an offence if:

  • you sell tobacco or tobacco products to anyone under 18
  • you break open packs and sell single cigarettes
  • you fail to display the statutory warning signs

Reporting underage sales

If you suspect a retailer of selling restricted products to anyone under the minimum age, please report them via Citizens Advice Bureau. They manage the national Consumer Advice Service, and staff there assess each problem and pass it on to the relevant body, such as Trading Standards. 

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