A fresh warning has gone out to retailers that it is an offence to sell cigarette lighter refills to anyone under the age of 18. This follows a recent undercover test purchasing exercise which resulted in a Caithness retailer selling a canister of gas lighter refill containing butane gas to an under-age customer.
The test purchasing exercise was carried out following concerns raised by NHS Highland’s Youth Action Service and the Caithness and Sutherland Drug and Alcohol forums to an issue of substance misuse reported in the area. Trading Standards Manager, Gordon Robb, said “NHS Highland approached us with their concerns, and as the enforcement body responsible for the laws relating to the sale of these products we took action by carrying out test purchasing.”
The 16 year old volunteer was sold the gas lighter fluid by a member of staff at Cardosi’s shop on Princes Street in Thurso. Mr Robb said “I am of course disappointed that the message about the sale of abusable solvents, including specifically age-restricted products like gas lighter refills, appears not to have got through to some people. The circumstances of the case, including the previously good record of Mr Cardosi and his agreement to speak out publicly about the matter has however made me decide that on this occasion a warning for him and his staff will be sufficient enforcement action. Further test transactions will however be carried, with any further breach being dealt with by formal sanctions.
Shop owner Brian Cardosi said “As a local businessman with years of experience in the laws relating to age restricted sales, I am dismayed that this has happened in my shop. I am disappointed that a member of my staff sold to the youngster, but ultimately the buck stops with me. It shows that even though you know the law and inform your staff it is easy to become complacent. I am a firm believer in learning from mistakes and have learnt the hard way that it is important to stay vigilant and ensure my staff receive regular training. This exercise has exposed a weakness in our systems and I am now working with Trading Standards to improve staff training procedures.
“I will ensure my staff now ask anyone they believe to be under-age for proof of age and operate a strict “no proof, no sale” policy when it comes to age restricted sales. Young people nowadays are used to being asked for proof of age ID, at my nightclub many have this ready to show the door stewards. Staff shouldn’t worry about offending someone by asking for proof of age, even if they happen to be older, don't be afraid to ask to see it. Remember it's your livelihood and how are you going to feed and clothe your kids without it. Likewise for staff, we don't pay you a great rate so how are you going to afford the fine?”
During the test purchasing exercise the 16 year old volunteer was also able to purchase glues from four other retail outlets in Caithness without being challenged as to their purpose. Mr Robb explained “Although there is a specific age restriction of 18 for the sale of gas lighter refills, there is no age restriction on the sale of other abusable solvents or volatile substances. With these products, it is an offence for a retailer to recklessly sell to a person of any age, knowing that the substances will be abused. What our exercise revealed was that responsible retailers had put in place till prompts and training for staff in order to avoid selling glues to potential abusers, especially children and young people. Others including the shops that had no such precautions sold the glue without question, and although not strictly illegal, means that they may inadvertently be contributing to what remains a significant problem for communities.”
Marina Clayton, Scottish Development Manager for the charity Re-Solv said “The effort being made by NHS Highland and Highland Trading Standards, together with the support of the retail community in the region, helps Re-Solv in our commitment to reduce the deaths and harms that can result from the abuse of everyday household products.
“Solvent abuse can kill on the very first attempt, so prevention is everything. There may never be a second chance to raise awareness of the dangers or to educate the community. Re-Solv will continue to work with Highland Trading Standards to ensure that every possible avenue is explored in combating solvent abuse”.
Mr Robb added “The Highland Council is committed to working with our partners to address substance misuse and will continue to carry out test purchasing of this and other age restricted products to ensure trader compliance. We cannot do this work without the help of our test purchase volunteers and I would like to thank these young people for playing their part in making the Highlands a safer place to live”.
Business guidance on the sale of cigarette lighter refills and solvents is available at www.highland.gov.uk/businessinformation/tradingstandards/tsadviceforbusiness or by telephoning Trading Standards on 01463 228700.