This brief paper reports the results of two observational studies examining the impact of fines for youth tobacco possession on public smoking among youth. Preliminary findings are presented that suggest that when police issued warnings and tickets to reduce underage youth possession of tobacco, in both towns the number of youth smoking in public declined. The study focused on an important health behavior; application of a potentially powerful, community-wide intervention; the use of two distinct communities; and unobtrusive assessment of adult and youth smoking rates.
Each day, 3,000 American adolescents become established smokers (Gilpin, Choi, Berry, & Pierce, 1999), and it is estimated that 1,000 of these children will eventually die of tobacco related illnesses (Centers for Disease Control, 1996). Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing over 400,000 people each year. Unfortunately, even high quality school-based prevention programs may not be sufficient in reducing tobacco use by children. For example, Townsend, Pokorny, Jason, Curie, and Schoeny (2002) evaluated the quality of prevention programming based on program intensity, focus on tobacco, staff resources designated for prevention programs, and implementation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for tobacco prevention. No significant relationships were found between these variables and reported current tobacco use, intent to use tobacco in the coming year, and perceived efficacy of substance use prevention programs. These findings are consistent with the Hutchinson Smoking Prevention Project, which is considered to be one of the most rigorous school-based smoking prevention studies to date (Peterson, Kealey, Mann, Marek, & Sarason, 2000). The study was a 15 year randomized, controlled trial of smoking prevention among youth, which provided a comprehensive social-influence intervention from grades three through twelve and assessed participants two years after high school graduation and found no significant differences between students in the control and experimental conditions. These findings suggest that tobacco prevention programs may need to go beyond individual-oriented variables to be successful, and perhaps include distal influences such as youth access to tobacco, community norms concerning tobacco use, and youth possessing and using tobacco in public settings.
One of the risk factors for adolescent cigarette smoking is easy access to tobacco products, and although fewer retailers currently sell tobacco to minors, youth still have easy access to tobacco products (Johnston et al., 1999). Behavioral psychologists have developed effective strategies to restrict youth access to commercial sources of tobacco (Biglan et al., 1995; Jason, Billows, Schnopp-Wyatt, & King, 1996). Even if commercial sources of tobacco are restricted, it is possible for youth to obtain tobacco through social sources. Research has shown that youth who smoke readily provide cigarettes to their peers (Wolfson, Forster, Claxton, & Murray, 1997). Family members who smoke, such as older siblings and even parents, are another important source of tobacco for youth (Robinson, Klesges, & Zbikowski, 1998). In addition, youth have been found to approach strangers who are smokers to get their cigarettes (Ribsl, Norman, Howard-Pitney, & Kim, 1999). Because a large proportion of children get tobacco from social sources, efforts focused on eliminating retail sources of tobacco may be necessary but insufficient to reduce tobacco use among youth.
Tobacco possession bans may make it harder for minors to get tobacco from other minors, as fewer minors may be willing to risk the consequence of being caught with tobacco. Tobacco possession bans also make it easier to reduce subtle peer pressure when minors congregate at social events and publicly smoke and encourage others to engage in this behavior. …