CASHIERS could face up to six months in prison for selling Christmas crackers to people under 16 because they are now classified as low-grade fireworks.
The emergence of the new ruling was ridiculed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and MPs when the issue was raised during Prime Minister's Questions.
The BRC said stores face financial penalties and individual shop assistants could be jailed or fined up to 5,000 if they sell crackers to under-age customers.
The policy adopted by many businesses means that shops must ask for ID when selling age-limited items to anyone who looks under 25 - resulting in cashiers challenging people in their mid-20s when they try to buy Christmas crackers.
The BRC said the rules were "particularly daft" and out of sync with European regulations that set the age limit at 12.
Jane Bevis, director of public affairs at the BRC, said: "The Government has promised to ease up on regulations on businesses but this one seems to have slipped through the net. The original EU directive which would have put the age restriction at 12 should never have been gold-plated.
"Now that has happened, it's vital there is a sensible attitude to enforcement until the Government can reverse this ludicrous restriction. It's the health and safety rules which have gone crackers and not retailers themselves."
At Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Northampton Tory MP Michael Ellis asked: "Are you as concerned as I am about the absurd health and safety legislation that's reached such dizzy heights in this country that the chief executive of Sainsbury's told me last week that Christmas crackers are now categorised as Category 1 fireworks and cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 16 without the danger of a six-month sentence of imprisonment? "Will you put a firework up their health and safety legislation?"
David Cameron said: "That would give me enormous pleasure and I look forward to doing so."