TRADING standards officers are campaigning to ban powerful and nuisance fireworks after record numbers of sales to under-18s in East Lancashire and more and more accidents.

Lancashire County Council officers used teenagers aged 13 to 15 to try to buy explosives in 20 shops in East Lancashire. Six shopkeepers sold them explosives without bothering to check their age.

Chief trading standards officer Jim Potts said he was disturbed by the trend, which showed 30 per cent of traders flouting the law last year compared to less than five per cent in most previous years.

He said: "We are analysing the figures because some of them may relate to the new-style temporary shops which are springing up at firework time."

Mr Potts said he was also worried by the 20 per cent increase in firework accidents nationwide last year.

The North West had the highest accident figure in the UK, including 178 hospital admissions and the death of 18-year-old Burnley man Paul Ridge.

The apprentice mechanic, of Pembroke Street, died after a firework exploded in his face close to the Duke of York pub in October.

Mr Potts is asking the county council to lobby the Home Office to bring in new legislation banning pocket money air-bomb fireworks, often sold in packs of four for just 99 pence.

He said: "Bangers were banned in 1997 but the firework industry has begun producing cheaper air bombs which evade the banger ban and are considerably more dangerous and louder than the original bangers."

He wants them to be sold only in large mixed boxes, pricing them out of the reach of youngsters, and for more powerful fireworks to be banned from public sale.

He also want to see laws bring the sale period back to the "three weeks before Bonfire night and a few days afterwards" rule, which used to be the firework industry's voluntary agreement.

Mr Potts said: "Since the Millennium, we find fireworks are being used at the New Year, often at drinks parties, and drinks and fireworks don't mix. It's double trouble." Blackburn with Darwen officers also carried out about 15 test purchases and found none of the shopkeepers were willing to sell fireworks to under-age teenagers.

Chris Allen, chief trading standards officer for the borough, said this may be due to their work before fireworks went on sale when they visited more than 100 shops to remind traders of the law.

But it's not all rosy as the office is investigating two cases where far more fireworks were stored than the legal limit of 1,000 kilograms.

He said Blackburn with Darwen Council had also written to the Home Office and Jack Straw calling for a tightening of the law.

He said: "At present, we cannot refuse to register anyone to sell fireworks. It's ridiculous, but even if someone is caught and prosecuted for selling fireworks to children, we cannot refuse to grant them a licence to sell fireworks again."