Scottish shopkeepers fear crackdown on energy drinks sale to youngsters could 'criminalise' them
The prospect of new offences being enshrined in law has been branded “heavy- handed” by industry leaders who warn that stores could find themselves on the wrong end of the law for making “genuine mistakes”.
It comes after many shopkeepers imposed their own voluntary ban on sale of drinks high in caffeine such as Monster, Rockstar and Red Bull.
The Scottish Government published a consultation on a proposed ban on the sale of energy drinks to under- 16s last week amid concerns over the health impact of high caffeine consumption associated with lower body weight.
Councils could be handed the power to issue compliance notices and fixed penalty fines to shopkeepers who breach any ban, according to the consultation.
And it adds: “We would consider creating relevant offences for sellers.”
But Dr John Lee, head of policy and public affairs at the Scottish Grocer’s Federation insisted the current voluntary approach to the sale of energy drinks has “worked well”.
He added: “There is an ever-growing list of age-restricted products and a mandatory approach will place more pressure on retailers and add to the overall compliance burden. It is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately assess a customer’s age and retailers should not be criminalised for genuine mistakes.
“Additionally, effective enforcement would be a huge issue given the lack of resource currently available to Trading Standards.”
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Scottish Retail Consortium head of policy, said responsible retailers are supportive of proposals to restrict the sale of energy drinks to young people.
“Our members already voluntarily take action on this, and we believe legislation will help the work of our members as well as ensure all retailers are operating on a level playing field,” he said.
“However, we believe criminal penalties are a heavy-handed approach to enforcing this ban when instead the approach should be evidence and risk based.”
Colin Borland, director of Devolved Nations at the Federation of Small Businesses, said many shops already sell age-restricted products and will comply with a change in the law.
He added: “On the other hand, these firms have faced a lot of regulatory change in the last few years on everything from alcohol licensing to the display of tobacco.
“At the very least – with the planned introduction of a bottle deposit scheme and proposals to restrict food marketing coming down the road – we need to see co-ordination between initiatives.”
Ministers say they will work closely with councils and retailers to develop any guidance resulting from a ban, along with an “implementation guide” for shops.
Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick said the consultation had been launched to consider whether the voluntary ban goes far enough, with some industry calls for an “aligned approach” with the UK where a ban is planned.