Background: Smoking by adolescents has been identified as a major public health issue. Raising the legal age of cigarette purchase from 16 to 18 years has attempted to address the issue by restricting adolescents' access. METHODS/STRATEGY: A prospective study evaluating the impact of non-prosecutory enforcement of public health legislation involving 'beat police' was conducted in the Northern Sydney Health region. Secondary students, aged 12 to 17 years, from both intervention and control regions were surveyed about cigarette smoking habits by means of a self-completed questionnaire administered pre- and post-intervention.
Results: 12,502 anonymous questionnaires were completed. At baseline, 19.3% of male students and 21.2% of female students indicated they were current smokers. Age and sex stratified chi-squared analysis revealed significantly lower post-intervention smoking prevalence for year 8 and 10 females and year 7 males among the intervention group. Higher post-intervention smoking prevalences were demonstrated for year 7 and 9 females and year 8 males among the intervention group and in year 10 males and year 11 females among the control group. The analysis of combined baseline and follow-up data from coeducational schools with logistic regression techniques demonstrated that the intervention had a significant effect in reducing smoking prevalence among year 7 students only (OR = 0.54).
Conclusion: Our study demonstrates the difficulties in restricting high school students' access to cigarettes. Isolated non-prosecutory strategies are likely to only have a limited impact on reducing smoking prevalence among high school students.