Introduction: Tobacco 21 (T21), which sets the minimum legal sales age for tobacco to age 21, is now a national law in the United States. Although T21 is expected to help curb youth tobacco use, its impact may be dampened due to poor retailer compliance. Even within environments where enforcement is strong (ie, compliance checks are conducted with tough sanctions for violations), compliance might vary due to other factors.
Aims and methods: Three studies were conducted in Columbus, OH, where T21 became strongly enforced in 2018. These studies examined how retailer compliance related to features of the neighborhood in which a retailer was located (Study 1), features of the retailer (Study 2), and features of the retail cashier (Study 3).
Results: Study 1 found that, after controlling for race- and age-based factors, retailers located in high (vs. low)-poverty neighborhoods had a lower likelihood of conducting identification (ID) checks. Study 2 found that ID checks were related to whether retailers displayed signage about T21, as required by the city law. Study 3 found that, among cashiers, T21 awareness (which was high) and perceptions about T21 (which were moderate) were not generally related to their retailer's compliance; having (vs. not having) scanners for ID checks was related to a higher likelihood of compliance.
Conclusions: These studies emphasize the many, multilevel factors influencing T21 outcomes. Findings also indicate the potential for T21 to widen disparities in tobacco use, indicating the need for strategies to equitably improve T21 compliance.
Implications: T21, which sets the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to age 21, is now a national law in the United States. Despite optimistic projections about what T21 could achieve, the ultimate impact may be dampened when it is applied in real-world settings. Our project revealed the many, multilevel factors influencing T21 compliance. Findings also indicate the potential for T21 to widen disparities in tobacco use if gaps in compliance persist. Strategies for equitably improving T21 compliance are discussed. This article is of relevance to areas interested in implementing or improving their local T21 enforcement.
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