Trading standards departments are failing to enforce existing laws to curb teen smoking, according to figures obtained by RN. Ed Chadwick reports.

As the government prepares a wave of new legislation including a display ban in all stores, plain packaging and an EU-wide ban on 10 packs and menthols, the number of test purchases carried out has been slashed by as much as 66% by some local authorities.

It has led to accusations by manufacturers and trade bodies that the government is failing to use proven methods to limit youth access to tobacco and instead rushing towards plain packaging, even though there is no evidence it has worked in Australia.

Figures from some of the biggest local authorities in the UK show that five out of six have cut the number of test purchases they carry out by as much as 66% in the last five years.

The average reduction in test purchasing by local authorities is 44.4% and only Glasgow increased activity – by 49.8%.

RN’s figures show that trading standards departments have been faced with an average 18.1% budget cut since 2009.

JTI’s head of corporate affairs Paul Williams said: “These alarming statistics are surely at odds with government policy to reduce youth smoking rates.

“A policy of strong enforcement of youth access prevention combined with better controls to stop cheap illegal tobacco is likely to be more effective at controlling underage access to tobacco than further unproven regulation.”

Instead of introducing further ineffective legislation, we should be making sure that current rules are being enforced

JTI launched a pilot scheme involving 2,500 retailers in the north west to provide guidance on age related sales. But Mr Williams said the government needed to play a bigger role.

His view was echoed by NFRN chief executive Paul Baxter, who said: “Instead of introducing further ineffective legislation, we should be making sure that current rules are being enforced.”

Glasgow Council said it was committed to maintaining current levels of test purchases, running at 412 last year, and Birmingham said its 47% reduction was due to a more targeted “intelligence-led” model.

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