Where Do Kids Get Cigarettes? Parents May Be Surprised
A new study confirms that fewer US kids are smoking, and examines where those who do smoke get their cigarettes. The sources based on a national survey of 8th -12th graders taken between 1997 and 2002, may come as a surprise to some parents.
Most kids get their cigarettes from friends or family members, University of Michigan researchers report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Vol. 27, No. 4: 267-276). About 65% of children in each grade said they have friends or relatives buy them cigarettes.
About half of the students said they bought cigarettes themselves from some type of retail store, often convenience stores or gas stations. Few students had to provide proof of age, even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia restrict tobacco sales to minors. Just 25% of 8th graders, 36% of 10th graders, and 40% of 12th graders reported having to show ID to make their purchase.
But smoking among youth declined between 1997 and 2002, the study showed.
The number of 8th graders who smoked every day dropped from 8.3% in 1997 to 4.8% in 2002. Among 10th graders, the daily smoking rate over the same period fell from 18.3% to 9.6%, while among 12th graders it fell from 23.3% to 14.5%. The number of kids smoking occasionally (not every day) also dropped in all grades.
High Social, Financial Costs
"The best news is that smoking among kids is down and quite dramatically," said lead researcher Lloyd D. Johnston, PhD, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "But there are still lots of kids smoking and becoming smokers. The majority of kids who smoke can get access to cigarettes."
Higher cigarette prices are probably the main factor leading to the drop in teen smoking, Johnston said. Attitudes toward smoking are another.
"There have been important attitudinal shifts about cigarettes," Johnston said. "There's a greater perception of it being dangerous and greater peer disapproval."
In last year's teen survey, he noted, about 3/4 of high school seniors said they prefer to date someone who doesn't smoke. "That's a pretty high social price for smoking," Johnston observed.
Even with the stigma, though, smoking remains all too common among young people and access to cigarettes is a part of the problem.
"You can't smoke if you can't get your hands on cigarettes," Johnston said.
Access also has symbolic importance, he said.
"When society leaks like a sieve and allows kids to have access to prohibited products like cigarettes, it sends a message that we really don't care," Johnston explained. "When you tighten up the system, it changes that message and sends the message that we take this seriously and you should, too."
Some strides have been made in curbing youth access to cigarettes. The survey showed sales from vending machines declined between 1997 and 2002 for all grades; 16% of 8th graders, 10% of 10th graders, and 9% of 12th graders got cigarettes this way.
But the survey also showed that kids can find places to buy cigarettes with little difficulty.
"One of the problems is that even if we enforce sales-to-minors restrictions, it doesn't take many who are breaking the rules to provide an outlet to a lot of kids," Johnston said. "Word gets around where you can get away with buying cigarettes, either because you can use a false ID, or they don't check or they don't care."