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Age restricted goods

The sale of the following goods are controlled by laws restricting the age at which they can be bought:

  • cigarettes and tobacco products
  • alcohol
  • solvents
  • fireworks
  • videos
  • petrol
  • lottery tickets

Fireworks

It illegal for young people under the age of 18 to purchase fireworks or for suppliers to sell to them.

The penalties for both supplier and purchaser are severe.

Guidelines

  • You must not supply fireworks to under 18s
  • No person under the age of 18 shall supply a firework to any person
  • No person shall cause or permit a person under 18 to supply a firework to any person

Fireworks do not include caps, cracker snaps, novelty matches, party poppers, serpents, sparklers and throwdowns.

Safety

The Office of Fair Trading has no responsibility in law for ensuring the safe use of fireworks. It works with other agencies such as the Police and Fire Service to promote the safety message.

For more information regarding Fireworks Safety, see the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

Petrol

It illegal for young people under the age of 16 to purchase petrol or for suppliers to sell to them.

The penalties for both supplier and purchaser are severe.

Solvents

Traders must not sell intoxicating substances to anyone under the age of 18 years if they believe or suspect that they will use them for solvent or glue sniffing.

Intoxicating substances known as solvents are one such group of products where the law restricts their supply because they have the potential to be misused - in this case they can be used for 'glue sniffing' more formally known as volatile substance abuse (VSA).

  • it is an offence to supply or offer to supply a substance to a person under the age of 18, or to a person who is acting on behalf of a person under that age, if you know or suspect that the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled for the purpose of causing intoxication.

Substances may be supplied to persons under the age of 18 for legitimate, intended uses.

A person found guilty of an offence is liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

Intoxicating substances

An intoxicating substance is anything that contains a volatile hydrocarbon (ie. gives off petroleum type vapour).

The main products that may be inhaled are:

  • certain kinds of glue
  • butane gases (especially cigarette lighter refills)
  • many types of aerosol sprays
  • typewriter correction fluid
  • dry cleaning fluid
  • some shoe polishes
  • metal polishes

There are many more products.

Recognising the signs of VSA

Some of the more obvious signs:

  • the smell of glue or similar on a customer's clothes
  • a customer behaving in a drunken manner - slurred speech, glazed eyes, unsteady on the feet, drowsy, confused and possibly even aggressive
  • spots and sores around a customer's mouth and nose
  • a customer purchasing a product that may be used for the purpose of VSA frequently or in bulk
  • a customer purchasing plastic bags and a product that may be used for the purpose of VSA at the same time

Bear in mind that the age at which young people experiment with intoxicating substances is generally much younger than for illegal drugs and that death due to VSA often occurs during or immediately following the first occasion on which a young person experiments.

Enforcement of the law

This Office of Fair Trading enforces the law and takes steps to reduce instances of non-compliance by:

  • educating and advising businesses
  • investigating complaints
  • using young volunteers to attempt to buy age-restricted products - the volunteers behave as ordinary customers under supervision - strict guidelines ensure that the exercise is fair

Good advice

  • refuse to sell cigarette lighter refills if the customer is under the age of 18
  • refuse to sell a product that may be used for the purpose of VSA if the customer is under the age of 18 and cannot give you a genuine reason for buying the product - ask for proof of age and keep a book to record details of refusals
  • identify products that may be used for the purpose of VSA and consider moving displays of the products concerned nearer to or behind the counter - consider displaying dummy packs
  • make members of staff aware of the products that may be used for the purpose of VSA and advise them on the action they must take - ask them to read this information - we can supply copies on request
  • EPOS systems can be used to remind staff of age restrictions via prompts - alternatively, place stickers over the barcodes on products that may be used for the purpose of VSA
  • display statements in the counter area of your policy regarding sales of products that may be used for the purpose of VSA

Judging the age of a customer

We strongly recommend that you only accept the Isle of Man Government's Proof of Age 18+ card, a driving licence or a passport as a means of establishing a customer's age.

Enforcement

The law exists to safeguard the health of young people and, whilst the preference to achieve compliance is by educating and advising businesses, the Office of Fair Trading may in some circumstances prosecute offenders without warning.

This information is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

Solvent abuse advice

If you need advice and information on solvent abuse, visit Re-Solv.

Tobacco products

It is a criminal offence to sell cigarettes or tobacco products to any person under 18 years of age.

The law says:

  • a trader or anyone working for them must not sell cigarettes or any other tobacco products to anyone under 18
  • a trader must only sell cigarettes in quantities of at least 10 and in their original packaging

Illegal to display tobacco products

It also is an offence under the Tobacco Control Regulations 2015 for retailers in the Isle of Man to display tobacco products (apart from in limited circumstances set out in the Regulations).

This law applies to all businesses selling tobacco products to the public, not just shops, but also ‘on-trade’ licensed premises such as pubs and clubs. It is illegal to sell tobacco from vending machines. 

Guide to the Tobacco Display Ban

Pictorial guide for the tobacco display ban

Training for retailers

The Isle of Man Office of Fair Trading (OFT) offers a CD-ROM based training package for all retailers and licensees on the Island to aid them in ensuring they and their staff are aware of their responsibilities under the law when selling age restricted goods.

The package, which is free of charge, comprises a CD ROM, a booklet explaining the law and a set of posters for display.

Copies of the package can be obtained through the Office of Fair Trading by phoning +44 1624 686520 or by emailing your request. 

Compliance volunteers

Volunteers Wanted

Trading Standards staff within the Office of Fair Trading regularly undertake surveys into the sale of age restricted products, with the assistance of young volunteers.

In order for us to test whether traders are complying with the law we use young volunteers to go into a variety of premises to try and purchase age restricted products. This is known as ‘test purchasing'.

As such, we have a need for volunteers to work alongside officers in this area. The whole of the process of using young volunteers to make test purchases is covered by a Code of Practice with which we aim to comply as closely as possible.

Do you know any suitable young people who could assist? If so you may want to know the answers to the following questions.

The products we test

Legislation controls the sale of a variety of commodities to people below certain ages and those of particular interest to Trading Standards Officers are:

  • Tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, loose tobacco, etc.)
  • Intoxicating substances (glue, cigarette lighter refill canisters, etc.)

Who can volunteer

Volunteers should be no less than 18 months younger than the age restriction for any particular product.

For example, we are looking for volunteers no older than 16 years and 6 months (so probably 14-16). They should not look older than their age, they should not wear clothes which make them look older than their age (normal casual clothes are ideal) and that girls should not wear make-up during the exercise.

Parent and guardian information

Parents/guardians of any volunteers will be asked to sign a parental consent form. You can stipulate when and where the volunteer can assist and any special dietary/medical requirements.

If age restricted goods are sold to our young volunteers the trader concerned may be prosecuted. We will need to take a photograph of the volunteer with the officer dealing with the case and this will be used in court.

To formally establish the age of the young person we will require the parent/guardian to sign a witness statement giving the date of birth of the young person. Witness statements are usually accepted by defendants and replace the need for witnesses to attend court. However, the defendant does have the right to require the attendance of the witness and on rare occasions that right is exercised. We try to avoid the volunteer being called to attend court.

Compensation

Volunteers are not allowed to be paid.

Appropriate refreshments and travelling expenses will be provided.

Additionally the volunteers will receive a Certificate of Achievement signed by the Chief Inspector of Trading Standards in thanks and recognition of the contribution they have made to our enforcement activity. They can, if they so wish, include this in their School Record of Achievement.

How to volunteer

Please contact John Peet at the Office of Fair Trading either by email john.peet@gov.im or telephone +44 1624 686520.

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