Tobacco sales law change campaign ‘inadequate’

Retailers have slammed the Government for a “woefully inadequate” publicity campaign to inform people about the change in the legal age limit to buy tobacco products.

The Association of Convenience Stores spokesman, Shane Brennan says: “We are very critical of the way the communications have been handled. We did a poll that showed over a third of 16 to 18-year-olds were totally unaware of the age change. That level of unawareness is a real risk to retailers.”

British Retail consortium director general Kevin Hawkins has also expressed his concern that the lack of awareness has made retail stores potential flashpoints.

The change in law, raising the age limit from 16 to 18, was introduced on October 1. The Department of Health (DoH) ran a £1m campaign that critics say concentrated on informing retailers of their responsibilities but has not done enough to inform young people of the change.

The DoH campaign, executed by communications agency Fishburn Hedges, consisted of mailers and “tool kits” for retailers, media alerts announcing the change, a dedicated website and some outdoor advertising. The only activity aimed at 16 to 18-year-olds was some online advertising during September on Bebo, Yahoo.co.uk, Myspace and MSN.

An insider close to the consumer campaign, which has now ceased, says: “It was very low profile.”

The DoH says: “This was a very targeted awareness campaign aimed at the primary audience of retailers and 16 and 17-year-old smokers. It is important we spend taxpayer’s money wisely.”

The ACS, which represents over 33,000 local shops, is collating information from its members regarding incidents related to the issue.

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