Age-related sales

Report online if you are aware of traders selling to children below the legal age limit.

Please report to Trading Standards if you are aware of:     

  • any traders selling restricted products to children below the legal age
  • children buying products and you know the trader they got them from.      
Report an under-age sale to Trading Standards (external link)

What are the age limits?    

Tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigarette papers and rolling machines  

Age of person: 18+

The law states:     

  • it is an offence to sell cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone under 18, including herbal cigarettes, cigarette papers and rolling machines, and sales from vending machines
  • it is an offence to sell loose cigarettes - they should always be sold in quantities of 10 or more in the manufacturer's original packaging
  • traders should ensure that the general warning notice and vending machine warning notice are prominently displayed
  • both the individual seller and the company are liable for prosecution.

Fines of up to £2,500 may be given.  


Age of person: 18+

The law states:    

  • it is an offence to sell fireworks, including sparklers, to anyone under 18
  • it is an offence to sell party poppers, toy caps, serpents, throwdowns, novelty matches and cracker snaps (Christmas crackers) to anyone under 16
  • it an offence for persons under 18 to possess fireworks in a public place (enforced by the police not Trading Standards.)

Fines of up to £5,000 and 6 months' imprisonment may be given.

Videos, DVDs and computer games  

Age of person: 12+, 15+ and 18+ classifications

The law states:    

  • it is an offence to sell or hire a video, DVD or computer game to anyone under a specified age (12, 15 or 18)
  • people under these ages are prohibited from watching these films at the cinema (enforced by the local district council, not Trading Standards).

Fines of up to £5,000 and 6 months' imprisonment may be given. 


Age of person: 18+

The law states:   

  • alcohol must not be sold to anyone under 18
  • it is an offence to sell alcohol to a person over 18 if you know that it is being purchased for a person under 18
  • a person under 18, working at a premises licensed to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises (such as an off licence or supermarket), cannot sell alcohol unless the sale has been approved by a person over 18
  • it is an offence for an adult to purchase alcohol on behalf of a minor (proxy sales).

The actual seller, all the licensees and the company could all be prosecuted which may result in a fine of up to £5,000 and the licensee losing their licence. Fixed penalty notices may also be given.  

Lottery tickets and scratch cards    

Age of person: 16+ 

The law states:   

  • it is an offence to sell lottery or scratch cards to anyone under 16 years of age.

If you win and are underage you will not receive your winnings. This applies even when a parent has asked their child to buy a ticket for them. 

Spray paints  

Age of person: 16+

The law states:   

  • it is illegal to sell spray paints to anyone under 16.  

Cigarette lighter refills containing butane and solvents

Age of person: 18+

The law states:   

  • it is an offence to supply cigarette lighter refills containing butane to anyone under 18
  • it is an offence if volatile substances or solvent-based products are sold and it is believed that they are for a person under the age 18 and that they are likely to be inhaled for the purpose of becoming intoxicated - this offence applies even when it is known another person is buying the product for a person under the age of 18
  • solvents may be sold to persons under 18 for their normal intended use.

A fine of up to £5,000 with up to 6 months' imprisonment could be imposed for these offences.   

Knives and offensive weapons   

Age of person: 18+   

The law states:

  • it is an offence to sell to a person under 18:   
    • any knife, knife blade or razor blade 
    • any axe
    • any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to a person.

Fines of up to £5,000 and 6 months' imprisonment may be imposed on the seller.

Whether a particular article is a knife is a question of fact, but using a wider definition the legislation prohibits sales of, for example, sheath knives, craft knives and carpet knives to persons under 16.

The legislation does not apply to:

  • folding pocket knives if the edge of the blade is less than 3 inches or 7.62 centimetres
  • replacement cartridges for safety razors, where less than 2mm of the blade is exposed.

Proof of age schemes 

To assist traders in checking the actual age of young people (whose appearance often does not correspond with their age) Trading Standards supports PASS (Proof of Age Standard Scheme) proof of age cards. All PASS schemes display a hologram PASS logo. 

What we are doing about under-age sales 

As part of routine inspections to traders across West Sussex we advise traders on the law and how to prevent sales of age-restricted products to children and the consequences of doing so. 

  • Any trader can contact us for free advice about these laws.
  • We recommend proof of age cards to young people. We actively promote CitizenCard and recommend that traders accept all PASS-approved proof of age cards, as well as passports and photo driving licences.
  • We distribute trader information leaflets.
  • We advise traders if we receive complaints about them and how to avoid making sales to young people.
  • We carry out test purchasing operations when young volunteers attempt to purchase age-restricted goods, under the direction of a Trading Standards Officer.
  • Shops that sell to these volunteers may be prosecuted. 

Become a Trading Standards volunteer  

We need volunteers aged between 15-17 years old, who must appear representative of their age. They will attempt to purchase age-restricted products from targeted premises, under the direction of a Trading Standards Officer. 

All volunteers need the written permission of their parents or guardians. Travel is arranged and you will receive a certificate which can be used as part of your CV. If you are considering a career in an enforcement body such as Trading Standards, the police or Customs and Excise you may be especially interested.  

If you would like to help Trading Standards during occasional school holidays, weekends or evenings contact us for further information.

Last updated:
28 March 2018

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