Youth Access Tobacco Possession, Use, and Purchase Laws: Measures of State and Local Enforcement

Tobacco youth access laws are designed to prohibit minors from accessing tobacco products, and also to simultaneously reduce both the supply of tobacco and the availability of tobacco products to minors. A variety of multi-level government policies have been enacted to reduce youth access to tobacco, including: sales to minors‟ laws, which target the merchant for selling tobacco to minors; and possession, use, and purchase (PUP) laws, which target the minor for illegally possessing, using, and/or purchasing tobacco products. Other types of youth access restrictions include minimum age provisions for cigarette sales (i.e. raising the minimum age) Tworek et al., Youth Access Tobacco Possession, Use, and Purchase Laws: Measures of State and Local Enforcement December 2011. and restrictions on product marketing such as banning vending machine sales, restricting product sampling to adult only venues, restricting self-service displays of tobacco products, and prohibiting out-of-package sales.

Youth access PUP laws have been controversial, with arguments both for and against their usefulness to discourage youth tobacco use. Supporters argue that possession, use, and purchase laws increase the cost of tobacco for youth and require accountability for underage use, similar to illegal use policies of alcohol and illicit drugs. Some researchers point to enforcement of PUP laws, in addition to other youth access laws, as a key component for effectiveness.

Trends over the past few decades indicate a sharp increase in the percentage of states restricting minors‟ possession, use, and/or purchase (PUP) of tobacco products. Since 1988, the number of states with PUP laws has increased dramatically. The average number of these laws per state was 0.45 in 1988, and 1.94 in 2006. In 1988, only 17 states had enacted at least one of these three laws; by 2006, however, 45 states had enacted at least one PUP law.

This research study collected data on the enforcement of youth access PUP laws at the state level and developed index measures of enforcement for PUP state-level laws. This study has also utilized local level possession enforcement data to construct a measure of possession enforcement at the local level. These state measures of PUP enforcement and local measure of possession enforcement will provide useful data to better understand and study the effectiveness of PUP laws and their relationship to youth smoking behavior and attitudes.