SUMMARY. Several researchers within the anti-smoking community have recently claimed that youth access tobacco programs are ineffective and drain limited resources. They make these claims because they feel that youth access programs do not affect teen smoking prevalence. Others have argued that anti-smoking interventions should not fine minors for possession of tobacco. In this last article, we provide a response to these arguments. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: <[email protected]> Website: <https://www.HaworthPress.com" xmlns:xlink="https://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">https://www.HaworthPress.com> © 2002 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

In a recent editorial, Ling, Landman and Glantz (2002) argue that youth access tobacco programs are ineffective and drain limited resources. They argue that these programs do not affect teen smoking prevalence (Fichtenberg & Glantz, 2002) because as fewer merchants sell tobacco to minors, teens will use social sources to obtain tobacco. The authors further claim that these programs help build coalitions for the tobacco industry. Wakefield and Giovino (2002), on the other hand, argue that teen penalties for tobacco possession may divert public efforts from more effective anti-smoking strategies, and these policies are unlikely to reduce youth smoking at the population level. In this article, we provide a response to these arguments.

The tobacco industry's programs in the early to mid 1990s that are cited in Ling et al.'s (2002) editorial were primarily focused on educational campaigns, which did not include merchant fines for selling to minors. The Tobacco Industry was forced to accept programs that fined merchants rather than ineffective educational programs, and now Ling et al. (2002) argue for eliminating these monitoring and fining programs that have been embraced by communities throughout the US and other countries. The likely result of reversing this fining policy would be that the majority of merchants would once again sell minors tobacco. Teens would receive mixed messages about tobacco use, as they would be urged not to start smoking in schools and at the same time being provided easy access to this dangerous drug by adult role models who manage businesses in the community.

One problem with previous studies that have investigated the relation of Retail Tobacco Availability (RTA) to youth tobacco use is that they measured this factor as the number of retailers who illegally sold out of the number of tobacco retailers assessed (Altman et al., 1999; Forster et al., 1998; Jason et al., 1991; Rigotti et al., 1997). This approach does not account for the relative density of tobacco retailers in each community, which may affect the likelihood that a youth will encounter a retailer who is not compliant with the tobacco sales law. In contrast, a more appropriate measure of risk exposure would reflect the number of retailers who illegally sold tobacco as a function of the youth population (i.e., youth between the ages of 10 and 17) within each community.

A recent study that assessed the rate of illegal retail tobacco sales to minors illustrates some important differences in measures of youth ac89cess to tobacco (Pokorny, Jason, & Schoeny, in press). Table 1 provides information from 11 communities and their groupings sorted by different measures of RTA (i.e., population adjusted). As shown in Table 1, there are important differences between the traditional measure of RTA (i.e., percent of retailers who sold) and a new risk index for the measurement of RTA (i.e., retailers who sold per 1000 youth). For example, data from Towns 6 and 7 suggests some important inconsistencies. Using the traditional measure of RTA, Town 7 has only 17% of retailers selling tobacco, and thus it would be considered as in compliance with the Synar amendment, which stipulates that states need to keep merchant illegal sales rates of tobacco to minors under 20% (Jacobson, Wasserman & Anderson, 1997). In contrast, Town 6 has more than twice the rate of illegal tobacco sales to minors than Town 7 using the traditional measure of RTA (36%), and thus would be considered as having a rather high level of tobacco accessible to children. However, using the new risk index of RTA, the number of retailers who sold per 1000 youth in Town 6 is actually lower than Town 7. The index of risk exposure that includes retailers who sell per 1000 may provide a more sensitive assessment than that used by previous studies (Pokorny et al., in press).

In the Pokorny et al. in press) mentioned above, individual, social, and environmental influences on smoking initiation and continued smoking