Objectives: To identify where and how middle school students acquire cigarettes and to describe factors associated with being asked for identification during their purchase.
Methods: A modified version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey was administered to 2227 sixth- through eighth-grade students attending 53 randomly selected middle schools in North Carolina in 1995. Data were analyzed with Chi-square tests, Cramer V, Kruskal-Wallis nalysis of variance, and multiple logistic regression using the likelihood ratio approach.
Results: Of the students who had smoked during the previous 30 days, 497 (22.8%) were the focus of the analyses. Fifty-eight percent of current smokers were male and 69% were white. The most frequent source of cigarettes was borrowing (32.1%). Only 16.9% of the students had purchased cigarettes from a store, and 3.9% had purchased cigarettes from a vending machine. Females were more likely (p < .006) than males to borrow or to have someone else buy cigarettes for them. Males were more likely (p < .006) than females to buy cigarettes from a store or vending machine or to steal them. Students who purchased cigarettes from a store or vending machine were more likely (p < .032) than other smokers to be 21 year older than expected for their school grade. Among the 197 students who had purchased cigarettes during the previous 30 days, only 14.2% had been asked for proof of age. Students who acquired cigarettes from a store were more likely than students who acquired them by other means not to have been asked for proof of age; while having been asked for proof of age was associated with acquiring cigarettes by other means (V = .44, p < .0001). Having been asked for proof of age was associated with earlier age of onset of smoking (V = .34, p < .0001), greater number of smoking days, and number of cigarettes smoked per day (V = .35, p < .0001). When analyzed with multiple logistic regression, only earlier age of onset of smoking remained a significant correlate of not having been asked for proof of age.
Conclusion: In North Carolina, it was easy for young adolescents to purchase cigarettes illegally, especially for more experienced smokers. However, being asked for proof of age forced these youth to acquire cigarettes using other methods, and this was associated with less smoking. Prevention efforts should include enforcing existing laws requiring youth to provide proof of age when attempting to buy cigarettes.