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Minors' Access to Cigarette Vending Machines -- Texas

The sale of tobacco products to persons aged less than 18 years has been prohibited by law in Texas since September 1989 *. This law requires cigarette vending machine owners to post signs on their machines stating the illegality of tobacco product sales to persons aged less than 18 years and that merchants convicted for selling tobacco products to underaged persons be fined a maximum of $500. In August 1991, Arlington, Texas, enacted legislation requiring installation of electronic locking devices on all cigarette vending machines. These devices render the vending machine inoperable until the store owner electronically unlocks the machine on customer request. To assess minors' access to cigarettes through vending machines, in October 1993 the Texas Department of Health conducted a study in Arlington and five neighboring communities. This report summarizes the study findings.

In September 1993, the health department obtained a list of business establishments with cigarette vending machines owned by the largest cigarette vending company in the Arlington area. A total of 116 establishments were identified in the study area; 59 (51%) machines were in establishments considered easily accessible to minors (i.e., restaurants, gas stations, motel lobbies, food stores, and recreational facilities). Data were collected for 42 of the 59 sites.

Four investigative teams consisted of one adult paired with one minor (aged 15-17 years). One purchase attempt was made at each of the 42 establishments. During each purchase attempt, the adult entered the establishment first and asked for street directions. The adult then observed while the minor entered and attempted to purchase cigarettes from the vending machine. Minors were instructed to answer, if asked, that the cigarettes were for themselves.

While attempting to purchase cigarettes from vending machines, no minors were challenged by business owners. Of the 42 attempts, 41 were successful. Of the 41 sites where purchase attempts were successful, 24 (59%) were located within 1/2 mile of a school. Most (35 {83%} of 42) purchase attempts occurred in restaurants; however, cigarettes were bought at every type of establishment where purchases were attempted. Warning signs prohibiting cigarettes sales to minors were posted on vending machines in 32 (76%) establishments.

Of the 16 vending machines located in business establisments in the city of Arlington, one was equipped with an electronic locking device. The single unsuccessful purchase attempt occurred at this electronically locked machine.

Reported by: JM Gomez, Arlington Police Dept; GJ Flores, SR Tobias, Office of Smoking and Health, CR Allen, MD, Public Health Region 2, PP Huang, MD, Bur of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, DM Simpson, MD, State Epidemiologist, Texas Dept of Health. Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Div of Field Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The findings in this report indicate that, despite laws prohibiting cigarette sales to persons aged less than 18 years, minors readily purchased cigarettes from vending machines in Arlington and five neighboring communities. Although the only failed purchase attempt in this study resulted from a vending machine equipped with a remote-controlled locking device, compliance with legislation requiring these devices has been minimal (1). The finding that only one of 16 vending machines in Arlington was equipped with the device is similar to findings of studies about locking device usage in other areas (1).

The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations. First, data in this report were obtained for only one vending machine company in the Arlington area because the Texas Department of the Treasury does not require vending machine companies to specify the locations of their machines. Second, because of time constraints during the study, data were not collected for 17 establishments considered easily accessible to minors; however, sites included in the analysis probably do not differ from sites that were not included.

Approximately 82% of adult smokers report that they first tried a cigarette by age 18 years, and 53% were daily smokers by that age (2). The initiation rate for smoking increases rapidly after age 11 years (3); in Texas, a 1989 survey of 4400 high school students found that 55% of 12-year-olds had already tried cigarette smoking (4). Because vending machine sales are not monitored actively by adults, cigarette vending machines can be an important source for younger adolescents (i.e., aged 12-15 years), who are more likely than older adolescents (i.e., aged 16-18 years) to be refused an over-the-counter cigarette sale (5). Studies indicate that younger adolescent smokers are more likely to buy cigarettes from vending machines than older adolescent smokers (6,7).

Unregulated cigarette vending machines may facilitate initiation of smoking among younger adolescents; therefore, more effective regulation of these sales may be an important preventive measure. Prevention of adolescent smoking may be enhanced by the recently enacted Synar Amendment to the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) Reorganization Act. ** The Synar Amendment requires that states demonstrate effective prohibition of the sale of tobacco products (including cigarettes from vending machines) to persons aged less than 18 years as a condition of receiving full ADAMHA block grants. As a result of this study, the Arlington City Council enacted legislation prohibiting cigarette vending machines in all business establishments that admit persons aged less than 18 years.


  1. Forster JL, Hourigan M, Kelder S. Locking devices on cigarette vending machines: evaluation of a city ordinance. Am J Public Health 1992;82:1217-9.

  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing tobacco use among young people: a report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1994.

  3. Kandel DB, Logan JA. Patterns of drug use from adolescence to young adulthood: I. Periods of risk for initiation, continued use, and discontinuation. Am J Public Health 1984;74:660-6.

  4. Texas Department of Health. University of Texas Health Science Center: Texas Tobacco Survey, 1989 -- a survey of 7th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in public schools in Texas. Austin, Texas: Texas Department of Health, 1989.

  5. Forster JL, Hourigan M, McGoven P. Availability of cigarettes to underage youth in three communities. Prev Med 1992;21:320-8.

  6. Allen KF, Moss AJ, Giovino GA, Shopland DR, Pierce JP. Teenage tobacco use: data estimates from the teenage attitudes and practices survey -- United States, 1989. Hyattsville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, NCHS, 1992. (Advance data no. 224).

  7. National Automatic Merchandising Association. Findings: study of teenage cigarette smoking and purchase behavior. Chicago: National Automatic Merchandising Association, 1989.

* Texas Health and Safety Code, Title 2, Sections 161.081-161.082. 

** Public Law 102-321, section 1926.

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