In 2003-04, procurators fiscal initiated court proceedings in two cases involving the sale of tobacco to underage purchasers. The equivalent figures for 2004-05 and 2005-06 were four and three respectively.
During those three years, procurators fiscal dealt with a total of 42 cases involving underage tobacco sales. In addition to the nine cases in which court proceedings were initiated, warnings were issued in 25 cases.
It certainly does not seem that the courts are overflowing with prosecutions of this nature. Is that because the current law is being obeyed meticulously the length and breadth of Scotland or, as we suspect, because people are not being caught? Would it not be better to try to enforce the current law before embarking on raising the age for buying tobacco?
Raising the age for buying tobacco is a matter for the Parliament and the Executive more generally, rather than for me as the Lord Advocate. I hope that Mr Wallace agrees that it is not only the prospect of prosecution but the existence of prohibition itself that makes most citizens of this country obey the law.
The approach in the past has been one of education, training and monitoring by the trading standards departments of the various local authorities, combined thereafter with the threat of prosecution by the procurator fiscal. A review of tobacco sales to children is under way, which will be available for the new Administration to consider. In light of that, and of any legislative changes that may come about, we will reconsider prosecution policy.