Federal Regulations Against Youth Tobacco Purchases Unlikely to Work, Says New Study
Regulations imposed by the federal government to make it harder for minors to purchase tobacco products are unlikely to have any effect on teen tobacco use, according to a new study. The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Nancy Rigotti, director of tobacco research and treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital (Nancy A. Rigotti, et al., "The Effect of Enforcing Tobacco-Sales Laws on Adolescents' Access to Tobacco and Smoking Behavior," New England Journal of Medicine, October 9, 1997, p. 1044; Barnaby J. Feder, "Federal rules to cut teen smoking unlikely to work, study shows," Houston Chronicle, October 9, 1997, p. 2A; Associated Press, "Studies debunk assumptions about costs, ways to cut teen smoking," Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1997, s. 1 p. 12).
Beginning on February 28, 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established regulations restricting the sale and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products to younger than 18 (Federal Register 1996, Vol. 61, No. 168, pp. 44396-44445). The regulations require states to demonstrate progress in reducing tobacco sales to minors in order to receive block-grant funding to combat substance abuse (Federal Register 1996, Vol. 61, No. 13, pp. 1492-1509). One rule requires retailers to check identification of customers buying cigarettes who appear younger than 27 to prove that they are at l8 (see "First FDA Tobacco Regulation, Identification of Underage Tobacco Buyers, Takes Effect ..." NewsBriefs, March-April 1997).
The researchers studied six Massachusetts communities, three with enforcement programs against illegal juvenile tobacco purchases and three with no enforcement programs. The study revealed that 63% of youths questioned said they had no problems purchasing tobacco products in the communities without enforcement programs, and 58% of the youths in the communities with enforcement programs said that they were rarely refused. Furthermore, the study found that while tobacco use among high school students in the three towns without programs remained constant, it rose in the three towns with enforcement. Rigotti said, "It looks like keeping teenagers from buying cigarettes will be more difficult than expected. Even when 80% of merchants obeyed the law, young people said they had little trouble buying."