Sources of Cigarettes among Adolescent Smokers: Free or Purchased?

By Jansen, Paul; Toomey, Traci L. et al. | American Journal of Health Education, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Sources of Cigarettes among Adolescent Smokers: Free or Purchased?


Jansen, Paul, Toomey, Traci L., Nelson, Toben F., Fabian, Lindsey E. A., Lenk, Kathleen M., Forster, Jean L., American Journal of Health Education


ABSTRACT

Background: Few studies have described youth cigarette sources in terms of whether the cigarettes were free or purchased. Understanding the different ways youth obtain tobacco can guide development of interventions to more effectively reduce youth smoking. Purpose: To determine the propensity for youth to purchase cigarettes versus obtain cigarettes for free, and the factors associated with each obtainment method. Methods: Our sample included 812 youth ages 12-17 who reported ever smoking a whole cigarette. Our outcome was the source of the last cigarette smoked (purchased vs. free) and independent variables included demographics, smoking behaviors, and smoking status of parents/siblings/ friends. We conducted logistic regression to assess relationships between outcome and independent variables. Results: Eighty-four percent of youth obtained their last cigarette for free and 16% purchased their last cigarette. Youth who smoked less and had less weekly spending money were more likely to have obtained their last cigarette for free. Discussion: Youth smokers appear to have a high propensity to obtain their cigarette for free, particularly those who smoke relatively infrequently. Translation to Health Education Practice: Interventions that target sources of free cigarettes have the potential to reduce the progression of youth smoking at a critical stage in its development.

BACKGROUND

Youth smoking remains a significant health concern in the United States, with 20% of high school students reporting current cigarette use in 2009. (1) One strategy to prevent and reduce youth smoking is limiting access to cigarettes. (2) Most of the research on youth access to cigarettes has focused on two types of sources: social (e.g., friends, family members, acquaintances from whom youth buy or receive cigarettes) versus commercial (e.g., businesses that illegally sell cigarettes to youth). A 2003 study of youth from 29 Minnesota communities found that 80% of past-month smokers obtained their last cigarette from a social source--54% obtained it from a friend, 12% obtained it from an adult, 8% obtained it from another teen, and 6% obtained it from a sibling--while 16% purchased their last cigarette from a commercial source and 4% reported stealing their last cigarette) A national survey of adolescents found that 51% of past-month smokers reported purchasing cigarettes commercially and 65% obtained at least one cigarette from friends or relatives in the past month.4 A few studies have found factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity and frequency of smoking may be associated with whether youth obtain their cigarettes from social versus commercial sources. (4-7)

Understanding the different ways that youth obtain tobacco can guide development of interventions to more effectively reduce access to tobacco and, ultimately, reduce smoking rates among youth. Research studies have shown that just reducing one type of access to tobacco (e.g., commercial access) may not be sufficient to reduce tobacco use--youth will shift to or increase use of other sources of tobacco. (8,9)

Whereas there have been several studies investigating social and commercial sources, we found only two studies describing youth cigarette sources in terms of whether the cigarettes were free or purchased. (6,10) One study found that those who usually purchased their cigarettes from a commercial source were more likely to be male and in 12th grade (VS. 9th grade), while those who usually gave someone else money to purchase cigarettes from a commercial source were more likely to be female and to be white (vs. black or Hispanic) and to be Hispanic (vs. black). (6) Youth who usually purchased their cigarettes from stores and/or other people were more likely to be frequent smokers; youth who usually obtained cigarettes for free from somebody else were likely to be female and to be black (vs. white). (6) A study of youth in the United Kingdom found that regular smokers were more likely to buy cigarettes from commercial sources while occasional smokers were more likely to obtain cigarettes socially, and that most youth using social sources were obtaining free cigarettes. …

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