AN undercover operation to crackdown on local shopkeepers who sell tobacco products to under age smokers is being planned by Ballymoney Borough Council and their counterparts in Moyle.
'If you sell today, then tomorrow you will pay', is the warning issued by council officers.
The exercise is an effort to combat teenage smoking and the Mayor of Ballymoney, Councillor Bill Kennedy, and the chairman of Moyle, Councillor Price McConaghy, have given their full support to the initiative.
Cllr Kennedy said: "The council have a statutory obligation to carry out these checks and it's all in the interest trying to prevent young people from getting caught up in the habit of smoking.
"We all know what results from this as far as health is concerned and the more we can deter the better. When you hear of some of the issues that emerge from smoking it should put anyone off."
The Councils will undertake a test-purchasing programme in a bid to raise the awareness of the law among local shop owners relating to the sale of tobacco products to young persons under 18 years of age.
A spokesperson said: "It is vitally important that cigarettes are not sold to young persons under this age, as young people can become addicted on cigarettes remarkably quickly placing their future health in jeopardy.
Mr John Michael, Director of Borough Services in Ballymoney and Mr. Peter Mawdsley in Moyle said that the exercise aims to combat the problem of some shops in the Borough that may sell cigarettes to children.
"The vast majority of shops are highly responsible and adhere to the law. Indeed, many of them are pro-active on the issue. However, there may be a number of outlets that are unsure of their legal duties relating to the sale of tobacco related products, to those under the legal age. It is these outlets which we will be targeting with the test purchasing initiative," both men said.
The Councils are reminding shopkeepers that they are legally obliged to inform staff of the legal requirement not to sell tobacco products to any persons under the age of 18.
In addition shopkeepers must ensure that they display an appropriate notice statement, advising customers of the law. Any shop, which does not have such a notice, can obtain one, free of charge, from the Council's Borough Services Department.
The test purchase initiative will be undertaken, in carefully controlled circumstances shortly. Any retailer found to be guilty of selling cigarette products to those under the legal age may be prosecuted.
All retailers in the two districts will receive a letter regarding the initiative.