Study says laws limiting teenage

by David Hyland

While the percentage of teenagers experimenting with cigarettes has increased, a University researcher has found that laws designed to impede teen smoking seem to be working.
A recent survey of Minnesota teenagers found that although teen smoking rates have increased overall, the growth was less dramatic in communities with laws that limit access to cigarettes.
The study was featured in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Associate Professor of Epidemiology Jean Forster launched the study in 1992. Forster said she was interested to know if laws discouraging smoking actually worked.
“Nobody knew whether policies had any real effect on the youth smoking ratio,” Forster said. “There was no evidence.”
More than 6,000 teenage smokers were chosen for the study from 14 Minnesota communities, seven of which had legislation aimed to curb teen smoking. The other seven had no such ordinances.
The seven Minnesota communities that enforced anti-smoking ordinances were Benson, Crookston, Fergus Falls, Litchfield, Montevideo, St. Peter and Waseca. Forster declined to name the seven communities without anti-smoking laws.
Over the course of the two-year examination period, researchers found that communities with anti-smoking ordinances averaged little more than a two percent increase, while communities without ordinances saw a jump of just less than eight percent.
Ordinances to deter teen smoking included increasing vendor license fees, banning cigarette vending machines, placing cigarettes behind counters, creating vendor and clerk penalties for sales to minors and ordering annual compliance checks by police.
Forster enlisted community leaders to help with the implementation of the survey.
Study organizers said placing obstacles in the way of young smokers is critical to stopping addiction.
“Most people get addicted to tobacco when they’re every young,” said Jane Croeker, coordinator for Wellness Works, a Crookston, Minn.-based community health organization. “This is a good opportunity we have to try to prevent people from having a life-long addiction. It’s a way to intervene that can have a powerful, positive impact.”
The coalition’s aim is to reduce the number of kids that buy tobacco products. In 1993, the group began collaborating with Forster on the survey.
Dana Prudhomme, an 18-year-old anti-smoking activist, worked with the student community to get the ordinances passed.
“I wasn’t trying to get people to quit, I was just trying to make people aware of the situation and make access harder,” Prudhomme said.
Prudhomme, a recent high school graduate from Crookston, Minn., has been involved in anti-smoking work since eighth grade. In conjunction with Wellness Works, she spoke at elementary schools and lobbied with community leaders for passage of the ordinances.
“I thought if we made it harder,” Prudhomme said, “then my two younger sisters won’t have to be in the situation where they had to say no.”
Croeker said while their work maintains a careful balance not to step on smokers’ rights, those rights don’t apply to teenagers.
“If you’re looking at youth access to tobacco, it’s already illegal,” Croeker said. “A lot of this is to make sure that these laws are enforced.”