A RECENT undercover survey has shown that nearly a third of shops, tested by Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service, illegally sold cigarettes to volunteers aged 14 and 15.

The three-month survey recorded underage volunteers attempting to buy tobacco products and out of 40 attempted purchases 13 premises sold the children cigarettes.

On one day of the survey four out of five shops tested sold cigarettes to female volunteers.

When questioned traders said that it is often difficult to tell how old teenagers are and in many cases they believed the volunteer buyers to be old enough.

There were however some retailers who did not even look up to see who was buying the cigarettes, let alone check they were over 16 and some are now facing the prospect of prosecution.

Proof of age

Hampshire Trading Standards Service are asking traders to remember the only way to be certain someone is old enough to purchase tobacco products is to ask for proof of age.

Commenting Coun. Ken Thornber, Leader of Hampshire County Council, said: "The message we need to get across to businesses is that they must ask more young people of identification.

"Age perception is increasingly difficult in today's society which is why we are urging those with the responsibility of restricting underage sales of tobacco and alcohol to be more alert and double check when in doubt."

Businesses keen to get it right can apply to join the County Council's responsible tobacconist scheme "Too Young to Buy, Too Young to Die" by telephoning 0845 603 0081.