It is easy for adolescents ages 14 and younger to purchase cigarettes illegally in the state of North Carolina, according to a recent study published in the October edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health, by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
According to the study, 22.8 percent of middle school students have smoked within the past 30 days and 39 percent of these smokers had purchased their cigarettes from a store.
"Only 14 percent of smokers who had purchased cigarettes had been asked for proof of their age," said Robert H. DuRant, Ph.D., vice chair in the Department of Pediatrics, director of the Brenner Center for Child and Adolescent Health and an author of the study. "This suggests to me that the laws do not appear to be working. Not being asked for proof of age when purchasing cigarettes was associated with an earlier age of onset of smoking and these youth also smoked more."
According to current North Carolina laws, you must be 18 years of age to purchase cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. In 1996, the laws were modified to include that photo identification was required to purchase tobacco products.
"One of the most disturbing facts we discovered is that we are not dealing with high school students here - or students where you aren''t sure if they are 18 years of age - we are talking about 11 to 14 year-olds, who obviously aren''t old enough to smoke," DuRant added.
However, the study also showed that adolescents who were asked for proof of age and denied purchasing cigarettes smoked fewer cigarettes and for less days.
"This is positive, because it suggests that if the current laws are enforced then they could be effective," DuRant said. "They could help prevent young adolescents from smoking, decreasing the numbers of regular smokers who become addicted and continue to smoke as adults. Most smokers become addicted as adolescents. Very few adults start smoking as adults."
In North Carolina''s middle schools, 25.3 percent of males and 20.7 percent of females had smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days. Research also shows an increase in the number of high school students who smoke.
"This is a disturbing trend," DuRant said. "The early onset of smoking, in other research conducted, has been shown to increase the chances that a teen will use marijuana, alcohol, and engage in other health risk behaviors including riding with a drinking driver, fighting, or carrying a weapon to school."
These effects are in addition to the effects that smoking can have on a person''s overall health. Smokers are about 14 times more likely to die from cancer of the lung, throat or mouth. In addition, cigarettes are a principal cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema and other chronic lung diseases. Smoking also increases the risk of high blood pressure.
"Prevention efforts should include enforcing existing laws requiring youth to provide proof of age when attempting to buy cigarettes," DuRant said.
For this study, 2,227 sixth- through eighth-grade students attending 53 randomly selected middle schools in North Carolina were asked to complete a modified version of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention''s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Authors for the study included DuRant; Daniel P. Krowchuk, M.D., a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center; Michael R. Lawless, M.D., a pediatrician at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center; and Eric J. Gratias, M.D., with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Contact: Rae Beasley (336) 716-6878 or Jim Steele (336) 716-3487.