Background: Many merchant education programs entail efforts to increase cashiers' requests for minors' age and/or identification (proving themselves old enough to purchase cigarettes) as a means of decreasing minors' access to tobacco. However, whether such questions are actually associated with decreased sales to minors has never been investigated. We present the first investigation of the role of such questions in sales of tobacco to minors.
Methods: Thirty-six minors, representing equal numbers of girls, boys, whites, blacks, and Latinos and of 10-, 14-, and 16-year-olds, each attempted to purchase cigarettes once in each of 72 stores, for a total of 2,567 purchase attempts. The frequency of asking the children their age and/or for identification (ID) was analyzed along with the role of these questions in subsequent sales.
Results: The data revealed that requesting age/ID was rare (occurring 17% of the time) despite the laws in California requiring clerks to do so. When age was asked, however, minors were refused cigarettes 95.8% of the time, and when ID was requested, they were refused cigarettes 99.0% of the time. Asking for ID may be more strongly associated with decreased sales than asking age. For example, for 16-year-olds, asking age decreased sales from 57.2% (when no questions were asked) to 8.5% of the time, and asking ID decreased sales to 2.4% of the time.
Conclusions: These data provide empirical support for the widespread belief that the success of interventions with retailers can be improved by enhancing efforts to increase merchants' requests for children's ID.