Aims: To describe the sources of cigarettes for under-age youth who had smoked in the previous month, the frequency of their purchases and the revenue generated.
Methods: A self-report questionnaire was administered to 3434 secondary school students from 82 schools, randomly selected using multi-stage cluster sampling.
Results: Over one-third of the students who smoked had purchased tobacco products from commercial sources in the month before the survey; most frequently from dairies and service stations. For more than one-third of smokers (35.7%), being younger than 18 years was not a barrier to purchasing tobacco products. During 2002, the retail value of tobacco sales to those 14-16 years, alone, was estimated to be in excess of 18 million dollars, with around 12.5 million dollars of this going to the Government as taxes.
Conclusions: Policies that restrict youth access to tobacco products can only be effective if they are rigorously enforced. Many young New Zealanders have no difficulty in purchasing tobacco products, thereby generating significant revenue. Total sales to all smokers under 18 years would be likely to exceed of 24 million dollars, with around 17 million dollars in taxes. Current legislation and enforcement is not a sufficient deterrent to ensure retailer compliance with age restrictions. It would be appropriate to use at least some of the revenue from under-age sales to fund health promotion programmes to reduce tobacco smoking and other health-compromising behaviours among youth. Nationally collated data on monitoring visits, prosecutions, and fines for under-age sales are currently not readily available, thereby limiting opportunities for evaluation.