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Stopping Teenage Addiction to Tobacco

Ages 11-17

Rating: Level 2


The Stopping Teenage Addiction to Tobacco (STAT) initiative is an environmental campaign to enforce laws against tobacco use by minors and to stimulate communities to implement other strategies such as banning cigarette vending machines or installing lockout devices on vending machines to curtail youth access to tobacco. Whereas traditional youth smoking prevention initiatives have concentrated on reducing the demand or desire for tobacco among youth, the STAT effort concentrates on cutting off the supply of tobacco to minors. STAT is an effort targeting law enforcement, vendors, and other community groups concerned with reducing the ability of minors to purchase tobacco. The aim of the program is to persuade merchants to obey the law by refusing to sell tobacco to minors.

The town of Woodridge, Ill., was the first in the Nation to put a tough enforcement program in place. Woodridge implemented a law that instituted civil (not criminal) penalties aimed against store owners (rather than only individual clerks), progressively increased fees culminating in the suspension or revocation of tobacco venders’ licenses, and regularly monitored compliance by using minors in unannounced purchase attempts.


This study examined the smoking habits of high school students in two Illinois communities that had regular enforcement of tobacco laws (Bolingbrook and Woodridge) and in comparison with adolescents in three that did not (Darien, Downers Grove, and Westmont). It also compared students from Woodridge with students from Downers Grove, because these were the two largest samples and one of the communities had regular enforcement while one did not. Youth from these five communities attend the same high school. There are roughly 3,000 9th through 12th grade students in the high school, with 46 percent from Downers Grove, 28 percent from Woodridge, 15 percent from Darien, 6 percent from Westmont, 4 percent from Bolingbrook, and 1 percent from Naperville. Researchers obtained permission to distribute the survey instrument to some 300 students.

A total of 357 students participated in the study. Downers Grove was home to 172 of the students, 109 came from Woodridge, 45 were from Darien, 16 from Westmont, and 15 from Bolingbrook. The students were all 17 or younger, with the majority being 15 or 16 years old (79 percent) and in 10th grade (65 percent). There were no significant age, school grade level, and gender differences between those in communities with regular enforcement and those in communities without regular enforcement.

Researchers collected information through a survey questionnaire distributed in randomly selected classrooms. The survey collected demographic variables such as age, grade in school, gender, and residential town. Students were also asked if they were aware of the smoking ordinance passed in Woodridge and what effect the ordinance had on them. Students also classified their smoking status as nonsmoker, experimental smoker, social smoker, or regular/daily smoker and reported whether they had tried smokeless tobacco. Those who had smoked were asked additional questions such as their age when smoking their first cigarette, how often they smoked, where they obtained their cigarettes, and how easy or difficult it was to obtain cigarettes. The final group of questions were about illegal drug use. Students were asked how often, in the last 30 days, they had used marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, illegal drugs, or inhalants. They were also asked how many of their friends—ranging from 1 (none of them) to 5 (all of them)—smoked cigarettes or used drugs. Lastly, they were asked how many times over the last year a person had tried to sell or give them illegal drugs.


Restriction of access to tobacco seems to curb the development of regular smoking. Particularly, 8.1 percent of students in regular enforcement communities were regular smokers, in comparison with 15.5 percent in no-regular-enforcement communities. Yet, among smokers, there were no differences in the overall number of cigarettes smoked. Additionally, those in regular enforcement communities used significantly less smokeless tobacco compared with students in no-regular-enforcement areas (8.7 percent versus 16.7 percent). Despite these promising results, cigarettes continue to be readily available to most youth. For example, even in regular enforcement areas only 25.5 percent of students said it was difficult or moderately difficult to get cigarettes. However, significantly fewer smokers obtained their cigarettes from stores in regular enforcement communities.

The study had several limitations. First, the sample was small owing to official permission to administer surveys to but a small group of students. Also, all youth in the study attended high school in a community that did not have regular enforcement of youth-access-to-tobacco ordinances, so youths had easier access to tobacco products. Moreover, prepoint data was not available for adolescents from the high school.

Risk Factors


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs

Protective Factors


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs


Jason, Leonard A., Marjorie Berk, Daniel L. Schnopp–Wyatt, and Bruce Talbot. 1999. “The Effects of Enforcement of Youth Access Laws on Smoking Prevalence.” American Journal of Community Psychology 27(2):143–60.

Jason, Leonard A., Richard Katz, Jennifer Vavra, Daniel L. Schnopp–Wyatt, and Bruce Talbot. 1999. “Long-Term Follow-Up of Youth Access to Tobacco Laws’ Impact on Smoking Prevalence.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 2(3):1–13.

Tutt, Douglas, Lyndon Bauer, Chris Edwards, and Don Cook. 2000. “Reducing Adolescent Smoking Rates: Maintaining High Retail Compliance Results in Substantial Improvements.” Health Promotion Journal of Australia 10(1):20–24.


Joseph R. DiFranza, M.D.
Department of Family Medicine and Community Health
University of Massachusetts Medical School
55 Lake Avenue
Worcester, MA 01655
Phone: (508) 856-5658
Fax: (508) 856-1212