Mystery shoppers have revealed three of the biggest supermarkets do not have adequate age-verification software in place to prevent under-18s obtaining e-cigarettes online, seven months after these became age-restricted items.
On 1st October 2015 it became illegal for retailers to sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids to anyone under-18 years of age. According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), nicotine can be harmful to the growing brain and so young people should avoid it.
Preventing under age sales of electronic cigarettes on the UK high street, where retailers can ask to see proof of age etc., is pretty straightforward. Purchasing online however, does not throw up the same obstacles and the current lack of retailers using adequate age-verification software is making it much easier for under-18s to get hold of such devices.
AgeChecked, a developer of age verification software, has undertaken a study to investigate how many online retailers are putting in place the necessary measures to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.
The study looked at 25 retailers in total including Amazon, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Boots and Morrisons as well as e-commerce sites specifically dedicated to vaping and/or smoking. Out of the 25 retailers identified, more than half (14) did not have a mechanism in place to prevent an illegal purchase and therefore the age-restricted goods were delivered successfully.
On the 11 other occasions, the purchase relied on proof of identity through paying via an e-payment institution or with a registered credit card.
Just over half of retailers required that an account be set up in order to complete the sale, eight of which asked for the customer's date of birth as part of the verification process, which could be falsified. Furthermore, 14 of the retailers did not have any warning signs on their site stipulating that e-cigarettes are illegal for under-18s.
Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked commented: "Online retailing does present challenges for businesses to obtain proof of age in new ways. While many do have warning signs and reminders to deter those that are underage, they should be seeking to implement robust web-based systems to verify age and identity online.
"It is not in retailer's interests, nor the general public's, that children can get access to such goods online. Age verification software provides retailers with a protective layer for their website which quickly and effectively confirms a person's date of birth. Such systems need to become the norm, rather than the exception, when it comes to the sale of restricted items such as e-cigarettes."
AgeChecked is a software which works to provide businesses and website owners with an age-gateway to add to their site. It allows merchants to route traffic according to age regulations which will ultimately prohibit someone underage from buying an age-restricted product.