The younger you start smoking the harder it is to give up in later life. That’s why it is so important to keep tobacco out of the hands of young people. Tobacco control measures and education has shifted the average age for starting smoking upwards and reduced teen smoking steadily, but 16 and 17 year olds especially, are still sliding into the clutches of Big Tobacco.
Although proxy purchase, when an adult buys cigarettes on behalf of an under-18, is 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?
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 groups; to seek empathy. Police have expressed concern about approaches to men who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, since this may leave young people in danger of being drawn into exploitative relationships.
You can imagine that people who have themselves asked adults to buy tobacco or alcohol in the past are most likely to agree to a proxy purchase. Maybe they feel that it would be hypocritical not to help out and buy the tobacco, they are bound to sympathise. We need to tackle this attitude.
This “generational” proxy purchasing will continue unless the enforcement of regulation strengthens or people come to understand that they are not doing anyone a favour by helping to start a life-long addiction that kills. Clearly there is much to do in order to change culture around supplying teens with tobacco, especially in areas of higher prevalence. To support the work of trading standards services, the Scottish Tobacco-free Alliance, ASH Scotland and the Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) have set up a working group.
The group is called Changing the Culture of Tobacco Supply and is going to gather together and share current innovative practice, make a contribution to local campaigns to raise awareness about underage supply of tobacco and help create some new resources to help.
The important message to get out to family and community is that we can’t expect trading standards to change things through enforcement and persuasion on their own. People have got to make a commitment; do they want to support a healthier Scotland free from tobacco? Do they hope that their children will never start to smoke? If the answer is yes then we can enlist that support for a tobacco-free generation and really make a difference by changing the easy going culture of supply to kids.
More information about the STA working group can be found here.
To get behind Scotland’s Charter for a tobacco-free generation visit here.