Smoke Screen: Research Finds Underage "Decoys" Don't Mimic Real Life

Strategies employed by youth to obtain tobacco and instruments for measuring tobacco availability

During 1999 and 2000, Joseph R. DiFranza, MD, and a team of investigators at the University of Massachusetts Medical School analyzed the effectiveness of standard prescribed protocols used to determine whether merchants comply with laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

  • Investigators concluded that standard protocols are artificial and do not accurately reflect the experience of real underage smokers.
  • Based on the results of focus group discussions with underage smokers, the study found that even in communities where merchant compliance is high, stores remain an important source of tobacco for underage smokers.
  • Researchers also found that the primary sources of tobacco for younger adolescent smokers are cigarettes stolen from their parents and cigarettes bought for them on request by strangers in convenience stores.
  • The primary source for high school-age smokers is fellow teenagers who work as store clerks and friends who are over 18.