Youth Tobacco Limits May Prompt Thefts: U.S. Study
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Restrictions on the sale of tobacco to minors may be prompting more teen-age smokers to steal cigarettes or get them from parents and older friends, according to a US study of student smoking habits in Texas.
The study, published on Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites), found that the number of middle school students who smoked and reported stealing cigarettes rose more than 48% between 1998 and 1999.
Those who obtained cigarettes illegally in other ways jumped about 40%, according to the study, which surveyed thousands of students in 214 public schools in Texas.
The percentage of high school students who obtained cigarettes from an older person also increased.
At the time of the survey, Texas had tough laws that imposed fines on retailers caught selling cigarettes to minors, limited cigarette vending machines to adult-only locations and required proof of identification from youths attempting to buy tobacco. The laws were passed by the Texas Legislature in 1997.
The rate of illegal cigarette sales to minors fell to 13% in 1999 from 24% in the previous year.
"Stricter enforcement decreases sales in vending machines and stores, but particularly in middle school students results in a shift to other sources," said Terry Pechacek, associate director of science in the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
"This is a typical reaction," said Pechacek, who noted that states like Texas needed to combine strict anti-tobacco laws for minors with intensified community education programs involving youth, retailers and parents.
The CDC, which hopes to cut smoking by students in half to 16% by 2010, said smoking prevalence among middle school students in Texas dipped to 14.8% in 1999 from 20% the previous year. The rate for high school students, however, remained largely unchanged at just under 33%.
Nearly half a million Americans die each year from smoking-related lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, making smoking the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States.