Why do some adults buy tobacco for children? Reply

Kayla Wiles, Engagement Team Assistant and Furman University Intern placement at ASH Scotland, blogs for us about proxy purchasing.

Scotland’s health has come a long way since the UK Government banned tobacco advertising in 2002, the Scottish Government introduced the ban on smoking in indoor public places in 2006 and the Scottish Government raised the legal age for tobacco sales to 18 in 2007. Although proxy purchases, when an adult buys cigarettes on behalf of an under-18, have also been made illegal those who do smoke are still getting cigarettes from family members, friends, or strangers.The question then is: how are young people convincing adults to purchase their cigarettes? Why do adults agree?

Proxy purchases are the most common form of secondary market used by underage young people to get tobacco. A secondary market is when cigarettes are bought or obtained from someone else rather than from a shop.

Underage smokers who engage in proxy purchases may hang around shop entrances waiting to enlist an adult to buy cigarettes. They target passers-by in the 18-25 age group to seek empathy. One small study found teens approaching illicit drug users, who are especially successful in providing proxy sales. Trading standards officers have expressed concern, especially for young girls, about approaches to men who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, since they may be in danger of being drawn into exploitative relationships.

There is evidence that people who have themselves asked adults to buy tobacco in the past are most likely to agree to a proxy purchase. Some feel that it would be hypocritical not to proxy the tobacco and sympathize with young smokers.

This “generational” proxy purchasing could continue unless the enforcement of regulation strengthens. Businesses in Scotland must be on the national Tobacco Retailers Register to sell tobacco legally. These businesses will soon have a legal obligation to check the ID of anyone who appears to be younger than 25, but small-shop employees who know the person buying the cigarettes sometimes go lenient on purchases.

Following the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010, which made proxy purchase of tobacco an offence, trading standards officers can issue a fine of £200 to adults who purchase tobacco products on behalf of an under-18.

There is still much to do in order to change traditions around supplying teens with tobacco, especially in areas of higher prevalence. We need to enlist support for a generation free from tobacco as a way of winning hearts and minds. Until then, it might be worth celebrating that smoking rates are nonetheless falling.


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