Objective: To provide data on the sale of single cigarettes to adults and minors and to examine the sociocultural context in which these sales occur.
Design: A naturalistic observation study using repeated measures. Two hundred six stores in a convenience sample were visited by one minor and one adult who each attempted to purchase a single cigarette.
Main outcome measures: Single-cigarette sales to an adult and/or minor. Data were obtained on type of store and, if a sale occurred, on the price, brand, and packaging of the cigarette. The ethnic composition of the neighborhood surrounding each store was determined.
Results: One hundred one (49.1%) of the stores sold single cigarettes. Singles were sold significantly more often to minors than to adults, and when both could make a purchase, minors paid more for these singles than did adults. Singles were least likely to be sold in white neighborhoods, more likely to be sold in integrated neighborhoods, and most likely to be sold in minority neighborhoods. Minors were able to purchase single cigarettes during 34.4% of the visits to white neighborhoods but could do so during 71.2% of the visits to minority neighborhoods; adults were able to make similar purchases during 24% of the visits to white neighborhoods and 37.3% of the visits to minority neighborhoods.
Conclusions: The illegal sale of single cigarettes involves complex sociocultural factors heretofore unexamined. An understanding of such factors may be useful in planning merchant education programs and drafting policy to control illegal sales.