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Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal


Volume 4: No. 4, October 2007

Strengthening Communities’ Youth Access Policies May Facilitate Clean Indoor Air Action


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Suggested citation for this article: Jason LA, Hunt YM, Adams ML, Pokorny SB, Gadiraju PB. Strengthening communities’ youth access policies may facilitate clean indoor air action [letter]. Prev Chronic Dis 2007;4(4).
. Accessed [date].


To the Editor:

Reducing youth access to tobacco products has been advocated as one public health strategy to address the problem of youth tobacco use (1,2). Enactment and enforcement of laws prohibiting the possession, use, and purchase of tobacco by minors represent one approach to restricting youth tobacco access and decreasing public smoking among youth. Youth possession, use, and purchase (PUP) laws currently exist in 45 states (3); however, controversy exists on the appropriateness of continuing to direct tobacco control resources toward enforcing these laws. Although many community members and law enforcement officials endorse the use of PUP laws as a method for decreasing public smoking by youth, some anti-tobacco advocates are opposed to this public health policy tool. Opponents of PUP laws argue that the laws are conceptually flawed and difficult to enforce and unduly punish youth instead of placing responsibility on tobacco companies (4). In addition, PUP law critics have argued that investing more resources in communities’ efforts to enforce PUP laws may divert attention from other forms of tobacco control (e.g., clean indoor air legislation) (5). Unfortunately, these criticisms have been made without supportive empirical data. For the first time, data from a recent randomized trial that involved implementing youth PUP law enforcement initiatives allow us to evaluate one of the criticisms of youth access policies.

In 2001, we randomly assigned 24 Illinois communities to either a control or an intervention group and then followed the 24 communities for 4 years. The 12 intervention communities agreed to initiate or increase PUP law enforcement practices, whereas the 12 control towns received instructions to maintain their current low levels of PUP law enforcement. The DePaul University Institutional Review Board approved of the study’s design, including continuation of low levels of PUP law enforcement in the 12 control communities. Because the evidence on whether or not PUP law enforcement was effective in reducing youth smoking was still unclear, the IRB allowed us to experimentally evaluate this issue. All 24 towns had merchant enforcements to reduce illegal sales of tobacco.

The Table provides data on demographics, the mean number of PUP law citations issued annually, and the level of police readiness for each participating community. Control and intervention towns did not differ significantly at baseline in socioeconomic status, as measured by median household income and high school educational attainment, nor did they differ in race or ethnicity. A measure of the level of police department readiness to carry out tasks related to the enforcement of PUP laws (6) at baseline revealed no group differences. Although the study did not collect data on the level of community readiness to implement smoke-free ordinances (e.g., evidence of prior attempts to enact legislation), to our knowledge, no efforts to pass smoke-free ordinances were under way in these towns at baseline because the state had exclusive regulatory authority over public smoking. During the study, the mean number of PUP law citations issued to minors within the intervention communities was significantly higher than within the control communities, suggesting that PUP law enforcement efforts were stronger in these towns. We neither encouraged nor discouraged efforts on environmental tobacco smoke legislation in either intervention or control communities.

In 2001, all communities in Illinois operated under the same set of weak state regulations on environmental tobacco smoke, requiring only that public establishments, excluding bars, have a designated nonsmoking area. However, an amendment to the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act in January 2006 granted regulatory authority over public smoking to communities, thus opening the door for municipalities to adopt stronger clean indoor air legislation. Since that time, six communities in our study sample have mobilized to adopt stronger legislation against environmental tobacco smoke, requiring all public areas (e.g., workplaces, restaurants) to be 100% smoke-free, without any exemptions (e.g., bars). Importantly, five of the 12 intervention communities in our study adopted local 100% smoke-free ordinances, compared to only one of the 12 control communities  (χ21 = 3.6, P = .06) (7). Because only 15 months have elapsed since the legislation went into effect, many communities may still be in the process of mobilizing their resources, and continued follow-up is essential for further evaluation of this trend.

The data shown here are the first to be presented that have a direct bearing on criticism of PUP law enforcement. The results suggest that pursuing an aggressive youth access agenda does not interfere with implementation of other tobacco control programming and that such pursuit may actually stimulate community-based efforts to legislate stronger anti-tobacco practices.  

Leonard A. Jason, PhD
Yvonne M. Hunt, PhD
Monica L. Adams, MPH
Center for Community Research
DePaul University
Chicago, Illinois

Steven B. Pokorny, PhD
Department of Health Education and Behavior
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Praveena B. Gadiraju
Center for Community Research
DePaul University
Chicago, Illinois

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Funding for this research was provided by the National Cancer Institute (R01CA080288).

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  1. Difranza JR. Youth access: the baby and the bath water. Tob Control 2000;9(2):120-1.
  2. Jason LA, Ji PY, Anes MD, Birkhead SH. Active enforcement of cigarette control laws in the prevention of cigarette sales to minors. JAMA 1991;266(22):3159-61.
  3. State legislated actions on tobacco issues. 17th ed. New York (NY): American Lung Association; 2006.
  4. Jason LA, Pokorny SB, Muldowney K, Velez M. Youth tobacco sales-to-minors and possession-use-purchase laws: a public health controversy. J Drug Educ 2005;35(4):275-90.
  5. Ling PM, Landman A, Glantz SA. It is time to abandon youth access tobacco programmes. Tob Control 2002;11(1):3-6.
  6. Kunz C. Development and validation of a community readiness survey for use with police departments [master’s thesis]. Chicago (IL): DePaul University; 2005.
  7. Smoke free movement in Illinois, April 2007. Springfield: Smoke Free Illinois;2007.* Accessed April 10, 2007.

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Return to your place in the textTable. Comparison of Characteristics of Intervention and Control Communities (N = 24) in a Study on Enforcement of Laws on Youth Possession, Use, and Purchase (PUP) of Tobacco, Illinois, 2001–2005
Community Total Populationa Minority, % Latino, % Median Household Income,a $ Obtained Less Than High School Education, % No. of PUP Law Citations Issued per Year During Study, Mean Police Department Readiness for Enforcement at Baselineb
Town 1 43,000 11 3 81,000   6 11.5 3.4
Town 2 34,000 30 5 30,000 26 20.5 4.3
Town 3   9,000   4 6 47,000 19 12.8 5.3
Town 4   6,000   5 2    133,000   4  0.5 2.9
Town 5 28,000 14 6 48,000 18 52.2 2.7
Town 6 12,000 25 4 71,000 12  2.8 3.1
Town 7 20,000   7 3 45,000 22 28.0 2.3
Town 8   7,000 11    18 39,000 29 10.5 5.0
Town 9 56,000 19 5 57,000 15 12.0 2.7
Town 10   6,000 19    26 45,000 32  7.8 5.4
Town 11 22,000 55 4 60,000 19 11.8 4.9
Town 12 20,000 18 7 71,000   8 28.2 4.4
Mean 22,000 18 7 61,000 18 16.5 3.9
Town 1 36,000 25    28 54,000 25 17.0 2.7
Town 2   5,000 41    16 59,000 21  2.5 4.4
Town 3   7,000   3      4 72,000 15  9.0 4.1
Town 4 14,000 11 6 44,000 22  3.0 4.3
Town 5 25,000 14 6 47,000 18  6.5 3.0
Town 6 10,000   6 2 83,000 11  0.5 3.3
Town 7   7,000 50 5 57,000 15  0.0 3.4
Town 8 15,000   3 3 75,000 10  8.8 5.0
Town 9 10,000    3 4 37,000 19  4.0 3.8
Town 10 6,000  18    22 58,000 29  3.0 5.0
Town 11 26,000 26    31 59,000 27  2.8 4.6
Town 12 75,000 21 5 61,000 10 18.8 2.7
Mean 20,000 18    11 59,000 19   6.3 3.9

a Values for population and income have been rounded to the nearest thousand.
b Measure of police department’s level of organizational readiness to carry out tasks related to enforcing PUP laws, scaled from 1 to 9, with 9 representing the greatest level of readiness (6).

*URLs for nonfederal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. URLs do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the federal government, and none should be inferred. CDC is not responsible for the content of Web pages found at these URLs.



The opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.


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