January 2007

Grant Results

National Program

Tobacco Policy Research and Evaluation Program


From 1994 to 1996, researchers at the RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif., examined, through case studies of seven states, how tobacco control laws and ordinances are implemented and enforced by state and municipal authorities.

The research considered two types of strategies:

  • Clean indoor air laws that prohibit smoking in public places.
  • Youth access restrictions that prohibit tobacco sales to minors.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program Tobacco Policy Research and Evaluation Program.

Key Findings

  • The study found that state and local clean indoor air laws were rarely enforced by government agencies. In contrast, teen access laws were often enforced through periodic vendor compliance checks.
  • The study found that effective enforcement was linked to legislation that provided specific enforcement mechanisms such as license suspension and removal.
  • The study also found that tobacco control forces focused most of their resources on enacting legislation and did not devote a significant amount of resources to implementation and enforcement issues.

RWJF supported the project with a grant of $199,020 between October 1994 and December 1996.

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In recent years, many states and localities have enacted laws aimed at limiting minors' access to cigarettes and at restricting smoking in public places, which are called clean air laws. Little empirical research had assessed the manner in which these laws are implemented and enforced, or their effectiveness in achieving their objectives.

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This project reviewed tobacco control laws and local ordinances concerning clean indoor air and minors' access to tobacco in seven states: California, Arizona, Texas, New York, Minnesota, Illinois and Florida. In each state, the researchers made on-site visits and interviewed local and state enforcement agency officials; representatives of affected businesses such as restaurants, convenience stores, and other tobacco vendors; tobacco control advocacy groups; voluntary health associations; and officials and attorneys for the tobacco industry.

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Synthesizing the results of document reviews and interviews produced answers to the following five research questions.

  1. How are tobacco control laws—both those related to clean indoor air and teen access—implemented and enforced at the state and local levels?
    • State clean indoor air laws were self-enforcing (people voluntarily comply with the law in the absence of a proactive enforcement effort) and were not systematically enforced by state or local authorities.
    • In contrast, states and localities were much more aggressive in enforcing laws restricting youth access to tobacco products. There was a consistent belief among state and local agencies that teen access laws would not be self-enforcing, thus requiring a greater enforcement effort than is needed for clean indoor air restrictions. In addition, there was widespread public agreement that youth should not smoke and public support for determining what mechanisms work best to limit youth access to tobacco.
  2. What is the effect of strong statewide tobacco control legislation on the development and implementation of local tobacco control ordinances?
    • A complex interplay existed between statewide and local laws, with each influencing the prospects and shape of the other. The tobacco industry has been successful politically in either defeating state tobacco control bills or including in the bills preemption provisions that prevent localities from increasing the level of stringency of state laws by passing their own ordinances. In most of the sample communities, statewide legislation had an inhibitory effect on local ordinances; for example, it was clear that local communities were generally not inclined to pass clean indoor air ordinances in states that had enacted statewide laws, even if there were no preemption clauses in the bill to prevent them from doing so.
    • Local enforcement was a critical ingredient to the success of any tobacco control effort, regardless of whether it revolves around clean indoor air or teen access; statewide laws should include a local enforcement component. Although clean indoor air laws tend to be self-enforcing, there still needs to be some local enforcement mechanism for the laws to be most effective.
  3. What role does an tobacco control coalition play once statewide legislation is enacted?
    • Coalitions were organized around legislation; their interest in implementation and enforcement was secondary. Government agencies played the central role in implementation and enforcement. Involvement by coalitions in implementation and enforcement, if present, tended to be on youth access restrictions rather than clean indoor air act issues. None of the sample coalitions had a defined implementation and enforcement strategy, such as generating complaints to the enforcement agencies or pressuring the state to allocate additional resources to tobacco control enforcement. The lack of commitment that tobacco control coalitions showed toward implementation and enforcement issues was present, in part, because coalition resources were directed to fight tobacco industry-led attempts to pass preemptive state-level legislation and to enact tobacco control ordinances at the local level. The tobacco industry's preemption strategy raised the costs faced by tobacco control activists to enact, implement, and enforce tobacco control measures by substantially reducing the prospects of passing stringent statewide legislation.
  4. What strategy has the tobacco industry adopted in response to the implementation and enforcement of tobacco control laws?
    • The tobacco industry has focused on a preemption strategy at the state level, in which state-level legislation preempts local tobacco control ordinances and tries to limit the effectiveness of tobacco control legislation by restricting the range of potential enforcement sanctions.
  5. What are the most effective legislative/regulatory/policy strategies given the findings of this study?
    • The enactment process itself—particularly in regard to clean indoor air measures—serves to change attitudes and social norms, paving the way for a smooth implementation process and a minimized need for enforcement.
    • Enforcement mechanisms should be simple and all aspects of enforcement should be detailed in the legislation or ordinance, including where the authority is vested, the structure of the penalties, and the person within the establishment who will be penalized.
    • The criteria for establishments responsible for implementing clean indoor air laws—distinguishing restaurants from bars, for example—should be defined in either the laws themselves or in the accompanying regulations. The number of exceptions to the law should be minimized.
    • On-going enforcement—including routine compliance checks—is essential to reduce illegal cigarette sales to minors. Local ordinances should have a graduated penalty structure that starts with a moderate fine for the first offense and escalates in severity with each subsequent offense.
    • Licensing cigarette vendors at the local level is a critical ingredient to an effective enforcement program because license fees can be used to finance regular compliance checks (making the enforcement effort economically self-sufficient). License suspension for varying periods of time should be an integral component of an ordinance's penalty structure.


The research study and its policy implications are detailed in a report published by RAND in November 1996 in its unrestricted draft series intended to transmit preliminary results of RAND research. It also appears on the RAND homepage.

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The project investigators received an award from the National Cancer Institute to conduct an empirical study of the effectiveness of excise taxes and regulation on cigarette consumption, which will complement this project. The investigator is still publishing extensively in field of youth/tobacco regulation. In 1995, he won an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research for a project studying the role of courts in health policy. Jacobson is now a professor of Health Law and Policy and director of the Center for Law, Ethics and Health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

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Assessing the Implementation of Tobacco Control Laws


RAND Corporation (Santa Monica,  CA)

  • Amount: $ 199,020
    Dates: October 1994 to December 1996
    ID#:  024785


Peter D. Jacobson
(313) 936-0928

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Books and Reports

Jacobson P and Wasserman J. The Implementation and Enforcement of Tobacco Control Laws. RAND unrestricted draft series DRU-1540-RWJ. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, November 1996.

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Report prepared by: Beth Brainard
Reviewed by: Janet Heroux
Reviewed by: Marian Bass
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Robert Hughes
Evaluation Officer: Marjorie Gutman

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