Securing sales against minors - an obligation?


Some things must not be sold to minors - this group of items will include, among others tobacco products and alcohol. The primary purpose of such a restriction is, of course, to protect the health and life of people under 18 years of age. However, do sellers have to use special protection against minors?

Who is the minor?

Polish law uses two terms for people who are not yet of age. In terms of criminal law, we deal with minors - persons who were under 17 years of age at the time of committing the prohibited act. In the case of civil law, however, we use the concept of a minor who is a person remaining under parental authority, usually up to the age of 18.

Therefore, minority is a state of underage and legal dependence on another person - most often a parent or a designated legal guardian. As a rule, the status of a minor is lost on the 18th birthday, but the law knows one important exception to this rule. It is a woman who, after reaching the age of 16, obtains permission from a family court to marry for important reasons (e.g. due to the state of pregnancy). It is worth remembering that the adulthood obtained in this way does not expire in the event of dissolution of the marriage even before the woman turns 18 years of age.

Prohibition of selling products to minors

There are a large number of products on the market that are prohibited for sale to a certain category of buyers. For example, firearms can only be sold to those who are licensed to possess them, prescription drugs only to the patient who has received such a recommendation from his doctor, alcohol only to sober people and those over 18 years of age.

In fact, the prohibition of the sale of certain products depends solely on the legislation of a given country. For example, in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, it is possible to purchase certain psychoactive substances that are not available to anyone in Poland. The same applies to the purchase of alcoholic products in specific states of the USA - some offer such goods to people over the age of 16, others require the buyer to be 18 or 21 years old.

The ban on selling products to minors is not uniform all over the world. In the case of Poland, it includes, as a rule, dangerous products (e.g. fireworks), alcohol, tobacco and psychoactive products (medicines, drugs, designer drugs). However, it turns out that children under the age of 13 cannot really make any effective purchases, even if it would include ordinary food items such as bread, butter, fruit or vegetables. According to the applicable regulations, persons under this age do not have any legal capacity, and therefore all transactions made by them are invalid by virtue of the law itself. Retailers, however, do not seem to see this regulation and allow young children to shop on their own in their stores.

For children 13 and older, selling is already allowed by law, although limited to certain assortments. Such persons can, of course, buy consumer goods, provided that they do not fall into the category of prohibited goods.

Decision of the Supreme Court of November 22, 1979 (reference number III PZ 7/79)

A contract concluded by a person who does not have legal capacity is absolutely invalid and, despite appearances, consequently does not produce the intended legal effect. This does not mean that it does not have any effects, because if such an activity is performed, there may arise, for example, an obligation to pay compensation. Absolute nullity is the most far reaching sanction in relation to defective legal transactions. It exists under the law, the court is obliged to take it into account ex officio and it can no longer be validated.

What a minor cannot buy?

We already know that a minor who is under 13 cannot buy any thing. Theoretically, the cashier should refuse to sell such a child, in practice it is unfortunately different. On the other hand, situations in which a child is sent to the store to shop on their own are not that rare, especially in towns and villages.

It is completely different in the case of minors over the age of 13 - the range of their commercial opportunities is much greater. However, it is limited to products of everyday use - those that are price neutral. If the child wants to buy something more expensive, e.g. RTV or household appliances, the seller should refuse - minors do not have independent legal capacity in this regard, they need the consent of their parents or legal guardians. So there is a rule here that minor transactions are allowed, larger transactions are prohibited.

Example 1.

The minor wants to do grocery shopping for PLN 100, is 13 years of age or older.He can make such a transaction, as long as he does not place products that are not allowed for him to buy in the basket (e.g. alcohol).

Example 2.

The minor wants to do shopping, in which, in addition to food products for PLN 100, there will also be a TV set worth PLN 3,500. The child is over 13 years old and got money from his parents for the entire purchase. The cashier should refuse to sell the TV as it is too valuable for the child, but can sell him food.

Example 3.

A minor, who is 8 years old, wants to do shopping for PLN 45 - he only wants food. However, the seller should refuse to make such a transaction because the child is too small and does not have full legal capacity. If the sale takes place, it is legally invalid by law itself.

Securing sales against minors

The ban on selling to minors is visible mainly in the case of tobacco and alcohol products. From around 2010, an additional obligation has been imposed on traders in this regard, in the form of the need to inform their customers that such products are not sold to persons under 18 years of age. Information boards must be placed in visible places in the store - as a rule, they are located at the checkout. In the case of online sellers who offer such products, access to them must be limited by an information clause - it usually takes the form of a displayed message that only an adult has access to the website with certain products.

In practice, securing sales against minors may take various forms, but most often it manifests itself in the control of the seller himself. He must watch over what exactly is sold to the minor and whether the buyer is over 18 years old. For this purpose, he has the right to request access to a document confirming the identity of a given person (it often happens that people who are already adults look too young and the seller has doubts about the real age of the buyer and his right to purchase certain goods).

Some stores may also use other safeguards - tobacco products can only be sold by the cashier, the buyer cannot choose them on his own. The same is the case with alcoholic goods, although these are unfortunately more and more often offered by stores on the basis of free access and choice. Currently, one measure of protection is a skilled salesperson or cashier who will be mindful of child trade restrictions. Start a free 30-day trial period with no strings attached!

While securing sales against minors is possible in the case of stationary transactions, distance sales may cause certain problems. The salesperson doesn't really know who is on the other side of the phone or computer and has to trust that the sale is being made by an adult. In fact, this applies to all products and services. In the case of telephone sales, consultants may still try to verify the age of the buyer, for example through the sound and tone of voice that are characteristic of children and minors. It is also possible to provide data from the buyer's ID card - this applies primarily to services offered as part of subscriptions (e.g. internet, telephone or television). Unfortunately, this is not possible in the case of online transactions. Theoretically, a minor may use their parents' ID and make transactions on their own, although not entirely with their consent and awareness. In practice, it is impossible to apply good safeguards here because the seller has no real contact with the buyer. If such a transaction has already taken place against the parents' will, they may later cancel the order in question and demonstrate that it was in violation of the law (i.e. without their consent to purchase).

In fact, the only obligation of sellers in this scope is to provide a visible and legible information at the retail outlet with the following information: "No sale of tobacco products, electronic cigarettes or refill containers to persons under 18" and "Prohibition of selling alcohol and alcohol products to persons under 18". In the case of other goods (e.g. fireworks), such information is not necessary, although it is indeed the case very often.


Securing sales against minors depends entirely on the seller himself. In this respect, the regulations impose only an information obligation regarding the impossibility of selling tobacco and alcohol products to persons under 18 years of age. How this ban will be enforced is entirely up to the trader.