Background: Our purpose was to determine which characteristics of buyers, stores, and store clerks predicted successful tobacco sales to minors.
Methods: Seventeen minors visited randomly selected retail outlets in the Austin, Texas, area and attempted to purchase tobacco products. We used logistic regression modeling to determine independent predictors of successful purchase attempts.
Results: Overall, 101 of 165 attempts (61.2%) were successful. Although legally required, only 25.3% of stores posted warning signs about underage purchase of tobacco, and stores with signs were no less likely to sell to minors than stores without signs. Successful attempts were more common from vendors in metropolitan locations and from vendors with no alcohol products. Only 8.1% of attempts succeeded when buyers were questioned (usually about age), compared with 95.6% of attempts when no questions were asked (P < 0.001). The best predictor of a successful purchase attempt was failure to question buyers (adjusted odds ratio = 1,850; P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Warning signs had no effect on vendors' compliance with the state minors' access law, and failure to question minors about their age substantially increased the odds of a successful purchase. Laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors should be enforced by requiring vendors to obtain proof of buyers' ages for persons who appear to be < 30 years of age.