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At the time of writing Guy Fawkes night is a week or two away and, although fireworks are not so readily available in corner shops these days, it is a timely reminder of the difficulties faced by retailers in dealing with potential sales of goods with age restrictions. Just knowing what ages apply to what goods deserves a GCSE to itself: readers may want to amuse themselves by guessing the ages which apply to the following: three categories of fireworks; aerosol paint; alcohol (the one everyone knows – but do liqueur chocolates count?); Christmas crackers; crossbows (it’s been a while since Nisa sold these); knives; lighter refills; lottery tickets, vaping products; petrol; sunbeds (see the Nisa comment above); tobacco; DVDs (does anyone under thirty still buy these anyway?) and video games.

It is a bit of a nightmare, which is why many shops now operate a ‘Challenge 25’ or ‘Challenge 21’ policy, where anyone who appears to be under twenty-five or twentyone is asked to produce ID showing their age. That makes it much easier for shop staff who have to guess the age of customers as it offers a large margin for error. The penalties for selling to people under-age can be considerable, including revocation or suspension of an alcohol licence, which can spell the end of a business. There was some disquiet about the challenge policies in the early days – you don’t necessarily want to be challenged when you’ve been voting for seven years and driving for eight, but as people have got used to them, it’s become more acceptable and therefore easier for shop staff to challenge.

Trading Standards are the enforcers, usually by means of what the press insist on calling ‘sting’ operations, which is a bit unfair in the opinion of the writer. Luckily, CACN isn’t the BBC, so we don’t have to worry too much about balance.

Do you want there to be a shop in the next village but one, where all the local kids know they can buy six-packs of Stella, no questions asked? Probably not. Do Trading Standards always choose as testpurchasers young people who look older than their years? Emphatically not, partly because magistrates would look very unfavourably on such a practice. Is a heavy fine the inevitable outcome of a failed testpurchase?

That would depend entirely on what advice the shop had received in the past and how good their system is to prevent such occurrences – records of staff training, CCTV, till-prompts when a relevant article is scanned; a refusals log to show how often they do refuse sales, and whether the shop had been the subject of complaints by local people.

It’s important that our young people are protected from themselves sometimes.

Most of us enjoyed dangerous behaviour when we were adolescents; there’s a physiological reason apparently, to do with the frontal lobes of the young brain not being fully developed. Along with the astonishingly generous, thoughtful and mature behaviour we see every day from our youngsters (volunteering to be test-purchasers for example), there’s just the occasional foray into absolute lunacy, which retailers really need to avoid aiding and abetting.

Oh, by the way, there are no restrictions on the sale of liqueur chocolates, except in Scotland, where you have to be sixteen.

Perhaps there’s a problem there of young people sitting on the village green with their mates eating Famous Names, who knows?


Cliff Shining