Tough Youth Tobacco Laws Linked to Lower Crime Rates
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Laws that prohibit minors from buying cigarettes may help to lower crime rates, results of a preliminary study suggest.
Researchers with DePaul University in Chicago evaluated crime data for 29 towns in DuPage County, Illinois, with various levels of tobacco enforcement policies, in 1988 and 1996.
Towns that enforced youth tobacco legislation by fining or suspending the license of merchants who sold cigarettes to adolescents under 18 years, or fining minors who possessed tobacco had the lowest rates of crime, including violent and property crime, the survey found.
``The implication is that communities that tend to respond quickly to even minor problems such as youth access to tobacco probably go after other types of problems,'' lead author Dr. Leonard A. Jason told Reuters Health.
``These actions in the end might lead to reduced crime and a better quality of life,'' he said.
Another explanation is that youth smoking policies decrease drug use and reduce community crime rates. Jason explained that research suggests smoking is ``a gateway drug--when people smoke it can lead to experimentation with other types of drugs...and illegal activity and crime.''
The authors write that prohibiting stores from selling cigarettes to minors acts as a ``partial barrier'' to becoming a regular smoker for some teenagers.
Further research is needed, however, to understand the relationship between youth tobacco laws and crime rates, the investigators note. For example, towns with tough youth tobacco laws and low rates of crime had low crime rates even before they enacted legislation.
``If the heavy enforcers have characteristics that serve as protective factors in deterring crimes, then it would be critical to engage in further research to better isolate what those factors might be,'' Leonard said.