Australia - voice for convenience stores calls for making it illegal for kids to smoke..

November 9, 2009 - Underage smoking should be an offence like underage drinking, says the peak body for corner stores and petrol stations.

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) is calling on government to make it illegal for under 18s to smoke, handing police the power to issue fines or court attendance notices.

AACS executive director Sheryle Moon, says existing youth anti-smoking measures place a "disproportionate burden on retailers". Ms Moon: "Where is the deterrent to make our kids stub out? We believe it is high time that the responsibility for youth smoking is shared and our young people are given a reason to think twice before sparking up. We agree convenience stores have a key role to play in limiting minors access to cigarettes, but we can only do so much."

It is now illegal for retailers to sell tobacco to minors and heavy fines apply if they do, but the law contains no means to penalise young people for buying or smoking cigarettes. In contrast, if a child is sold or given alcohol on licensed premises then both the child and the licensee have committed an offence and can be punished under the nation's liquor laws. "We already have a zero tolerance policy for unaccompanied minors possessing alcohol, so why can't we do the same with youth smoking?" Ms Moon asked.

"AACS is calling on our law makers to introduce prosecution and penalties for those who are caught in the act to show that they are serious about cutting youth smoking rates."

Ms Moon said the Rudd government had set an ambitious target for Australia to be the healthiest country in the world by 2020, with decreasing the number of teenagers who smoke as a top priority. While education and awareness campaigns for young people were essential, she said until there was a real disincentive for kids to light up then "we aren't doing enough to reduce youth smoking".

About 70,000 young people start smoking in Australia every year - that's more than 190 a day.

Stafford Sanders, who co-ordinates a coalition of pressure groups called Protecting Children from Tobacco, said there was no evidence that making underage smoking illegal would reduce its incidence. "It may even make it more glamorous, and more attractive, to some teenagers if they have a rebellious leaning," Mr Sanders told Australian Associated Press (AAP).

"This is a bit of a distraction by the Australian Association of Convenience Stores to take the spotlight off retailers breaking the law." Mr Sanders said convenience stores and service stations were some of the "worst offenders" when it came to the places where underage teens and children could obtain cigarettes.

The AACS could otherwise show its concern about these children by supporting calls to have tobacco products removed from view in stores, he said, or closing the loophole that allowed workers under 18 to sell cigarettes.

Sanders: "It's the responsibility of adults in our society to protect children, and not to sell them deadly and addictive drugs."

Reference: Underage smoking 'should be illegal', DANNY ROSE, Australian Associated Press - The Sydney Morning Herald, 11/10/2009.