Many California Stores Sell Cigarettes to Minors, Study Finds
Despite federal and state laws requiring store clerks to inspect identification when selling tobacco products, a research letter published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association finds that inspection is inadequate and many stores routinely sell cigarettes to minors. Researchers at San Diego State University conducted a study to determine whether store clerks check ID or if they examine ID cards when presented. As part of the study, 12 teens between 15 and 17 years old attempted to purchase tobacco from a total of 227 small stores in 22 California cities. Youths in the "standard" protocol were instructed to walk up to the counter and ask, "May I buy a pack of Marlboro, please?" Participants in the "flash" protocol also requested the cigarettes, but added, "I have ID" without being prompted by the store clerk and "flashed" a California state ID card or California drivers license. Researchers found that cigarette sales were 3.8 times higher in the "flash" ID protocol than in the standard protocol. In addition, 17-year-olds were 10 times more likely and 16-year-olds were 3.5 times more likely than 15-year-olds to be sold cigarettes. Across both protocols, store clerks asked minors their ages 12.2% of the time and asked for ID 55.6% of the time. The study determined that while clerks "frequently" ask youths to show their ID, they "fail to examine it to calculate age or to compare the photo to the customer's face." Researchers added, "When youth flash ID, clerks may assume that they are old enough to buy cigarettes, hence, sales of tobacco to underage youth were nearly four times higher when ID was flashed, the opposite of the law's intent." The study concludes, "Efforts to reduce youth access must address the frequent failure of clerks to examine the ID of minors attempting to purchase tobacco" (Landrine et al., JAMA, 5/9). To view the study, go to http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/current/ffull/jlt0509-6.html.
Local chapters of the American Lung Association and American Heart Association are now pushing police departments to apply for state funding to "beef up enforcement," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Daniel Walsh, head of tobacco investigations for the state health department, said that illegal tobacco sales currently are a low priority for police departments. The associations are also urging California cities to mandate "tobacco-selling licenses," which would give cities "the financially persuasive power to suspend licenses." Twenty-five cities have enacted such legislation (Duerksen, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.