A National Approach for Reducing Access to Tobacco in Australia by Young People under 18 Years of Age

Case Study 1: NSW Department of Health Sales to Minors Program

Case Study 1: NSW Department of Health Sales to Minors Program - A National Approach for Reducing Access to Tobacco in Australia by Young People under 18 Years of Age

Page last updated: 26 April 2012

A comprehensive sales to minors program was developed in NSW in 1996 in response to surveys which reported increasing rates in adolescent smoking and high proportions of young people purchasing cigarettes. Additionally, there was increasing evidence that suggested that access to cigarettes in NSW by young people was easy and relatively unrestricted. The NSW Sales to Minors Program was initiated by the NSW Health Department and involved collaboration with a range of other agencies in a comprehensive program of activities. The state wide program built on the significant local pilot programs undertaken in some Area Health Services in NSW.

The components of the NSW Sales to Minors program included strengthening of the legislation; education and training programs for enforcement and prosecution personnel, retailers and the general public; community action programs; monitoring and enforcement of the legislation; prosecutions for retailers’ ongoing non-compliance and evaluation.


The Public Health Act 1991 was strengthened in 1996 to include:
  • an offence to sell to a person under 18 years;
  • the introduction of Proof of Age requirements, requiring retailers to view a young customer’s drivers license, passport or proof of age card before selling tobacco products to them;
  • no defence to retailers who sell to children younger than 14 years;
  • substantial fines for breaches of Act;
  • shared enforcement authority between Health, Police and Local Government.

Education and training

A range of activities detailed below was undertaken to educate and train the key stakeholders about the changes to the sales to minors law.

  1. Enforcement Agencies and Prosecution Personnel
    • A Policies and Procedures manual for enforcement of the legislation was produced and disseminated to Area Health Services in NSW.
    • Training programs were conducted with supportive resources developed for Environmental Health Officers, Police, Health Services personnel and judiciary personnel.

  2. General Public/Community Groups
    • Education resources were produced which included a community education and action kit. The kit included promotion of procedures for reporting breaches and a range of ideas for community action and school activities to address the issue of tobacco sales to minors.
    • Comprehensive media and advertising campaigns were mounted following the introduction of the program in 1996. These programs were designed to increase awareness of the general public and young people of the specific requirements of the sales to minors legislation including the new proof of age amendments.
    • Local Area Health Services were encouraged to initiate publicity about prosecutions and local related issues.

  3. Retailers
    • Resources produced included a Retailer Information Kit (information, signs and stickers).
    • Media and advertising campaigns were undertaken targeting retailers and were designed to raise awareness of their obligations under the Public Health Act.

Community Action

  • Local community programs were encouraged and supported by NSW Health Department by the provision of advice and resources.
  • Suggested strategies were described in the Policies and Procedures Manual which was disseminated throughout the state.
  • Local programs included the provision of resources for retailers, publicity about compliance monitoring activities and local prosecutions, community action strategies involving local schools and relevant community groups and retailers.

Monitoring and Enforcement

  • As a component of performance agreements between Area Health Services and NSW Health, Area Health Services are required to annually inspect a minimum of 10 per cent of the estimated total of their local tobacco retail outlets.
  • Area Health Services conduct enforcement activities according to compliance monitoring policies and procedures issued by the Department which involve young
  • people attempting to purchase cigarettes from retail outlets.
  • Grants are provided to Area Health Services to contribute to the costs associated with compliance monitoring.


  • Public Health Units were provided with guidelines and procedures for managing complaints, investigations, issuing warning letters and pursuing prosecutions.
  • Substantial training was and continues to be provided for enforcement agencies.
  • Prosecutions have been undertaken when breaches of the Act were reported by officers of the NSW Health Department, Local Councils or by Police Officers. These may have arisen from compliance monitoring activities and when initial warnings and follow up investigations revealed ongoing non-compliance by a retailer.


Evaluation programs have included:
  • Ongoing monitoring of illegal sales rates in Area Health Services of NSW through compliance surveys.
  • Surveys which target retailers, young people and the community and measure young people’s access to tobacco products, the attitudes of young people and others in the community, perceptions of retailers of likelihood of being caught.
  • The impact of the media and advertising campaigns.
  • The evaluation of the NSW Department of Health’s Policies and Procedures Manual.
  • Regularly undertaken surveys regarding smoking prevalence and young people’s access to tobacco products.


An increase in retailer compliance since 1996 has been observed in most Area Health Services of NSW following retailer education, compliance monitoring activities and the publicising of successful prosecutions. In 1998/1999 the NSW state average compliance rate was 84 per cent and sales rate was 16 per cent. This compares favourably to earlier studies that indicated low compliance rates of retailers in NSW. For example, compliance rates in two areas of Sydney in 1994 and 1995 were around 48 per cent and 26 per cent.

To date, there have been 122 successful prosecutions for illegal cigarette sales in NSW and fines of $1000 plus court costs have been recorded.
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