Details of two Whangārei businesses who sold tobacco products to underage customers will be forwarded to the Ministry of Health for a decision on further action, which may include prosecution.

The retailers were detected during a recent controlled purchase operation (CPO) carried out by the Northland District Health Board.

Of the 20 retailers tested in Whangārei , two were found in breach of the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990, which prohibits the sale of tobacco to anyone under 18 years of age.

Northland District Health Board were disappointed to see retailers continuing to sell cigarettes to minors and the latest result showed little improvement from previous operations.

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Dr Catherine Jackson, Medical Officer of Health said smoking was the biggest driver of preventable ill health in Northland and contributed to early death in adults and stillbirth and sudden infant death in Northland babies.

"It is unacceptable that some retailers are contributing to nicotine addiction in young people by selling to underage children," Jackson said.

The operations are conducted throughout the year using children below the legal age of 18 to approach retailers to purchase tobacco products under controlled conditions. The volunteers carry no identification and are required to tell the truth about their age if asked by the retailer.

The maximum fine for breaches of the act is $2000. Changes introduced by the 2003 amendments to the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 can result in repeat-offending retailers being ordered not to sell any tobacco products.

Details regarding the retailers who sold cigarettes to the 17-year-old volunteers will be forwarded to the Ministry of Health for a decision on further action.

Northland DHB Smokefree Officer Jo Dones said the operations had been conducted for many years and it was clear some retailers were not complying with the law and were prepared to risk prosecution.

"If they look under 25, ask for photo identification. No photo identification, no sale. It really is that simple. The Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 is not new legislation, and all business operators have legal obligations under the act," Dones said.

All district health boards conduct regular CPOs. One of the principal aims is to protect children from developing an addiction to tobacco. Further operations are planned throughout Northland.

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Any retailers requiring assistance with staff training and information can contact Smokefree Officers, Northland District Health Board, ph (09) 430 4100.