Background: Underage youth report that they primarily obtain cigarettes from commercial sources. Thus policies that effectively prevent purchase by minors could have an effect on the prevalence of young people's cigarette use.
Methods: In this study, 12- to 15-year-old male and female confederates attempted to purchase cigarettes from all cigarette outlets in three communities.
Results: A success rate of 53% over the counter and 79% from vending machines was achieved. These results show that minors can purchase cigarettes in all types of businesses, even those characterized as "adult" locations. Boys in this study had more difficulty than girls in purchasing cigarettes over the counter, and younger individuals had more difficulty than 15-year-olds. However, these differences were not found in vending machine sales. Similarly, over-the-counter sales of cigarettes were significantly reduced following a state-wide increase in the penalty for tobacco sales to minors, but vending machine sales were not affected.
Conclusions: These results support stringent and universal controls over the sale of cigarettes as an essential part of any tobacco use prevention strategy.