A highland shop that sold cigarettes to an under-age “customer” has been hit by two fixed penalties of £200. Highland Council’s Trading Standards department issued the two notices after a test-purchase exercise undertaken across the Highlands that involved the use of a young volunteer.

The £200 penalties, which were new sanctions introduced by Scottish legislation earlier this year, were issued to the shop assistant who made the illegal cheap Marshal cigarettes sale and to the company operating the shop premises in the Badenoch and Strathspey area.

Officers visited 22 tobacco retailers across the Highlands and the 16-year-old volunteer was refused cigarettes in 21 of these premises. It is an offence to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of eighteen.

Trading Standards Manager Gordon Robb said: “I am pleased that the majority of tobacco retailers included in the exercise complied with their legal obligations and refused to sell tobacco to our young volunteer, but given the significant efforts by government, charitable organisations and local authorities to raise awareness of the health issues and the law, I am disappointed that we didn’t achieve a 100 per cent refusal rate. One fail is one too many in my book, especially when the adoption of a strict No Proof of Age – No Sale policy can virtually eliminate it happening.

“We applaud those traders who refused to sell and they have all been sent a letter congratulating them on their responsible actions and reiterating the importance to continue to act diligently with regard to the sale of tobacco and other age restricted products.”

The programme of attempted test purchases was undertaken under a strict test purchasing protocol drawn up by the Scottish Executive, The Crown Office, Trading Standards, CoSLA, health agencies and industry representatives.

This requires the volunteer to be at least 18 months younger than the age limit of the product, not look older than their age and for them to be truthful if challenged.

New tobacco legislation places a duty on local authorities to carry out programmes of enforcement action in its area. The new legislation allows trading standards officers for the first time to issue fixed penalties up to £1,000. Failure to pay can result in a report going to the procurator fiscal. If a tobacco retailer is repeatedly the subject of tobacco enforcement actions, the council can apply for a banning order which will prevent the business from selling tobacco.

Mr Robb added: “Since the sale to our volunteer, our officers have worked with the retailer concerned and provided staff training and advice on good business practice to help ensure future compliance. We are planning further test purchasing exercises.”