Friday, July 15, 2011

FDA to Waste $2.1 Million on Strategy Proven to Be Ineffective in Deterring Youth Smoking

According to an article on the WABI-TV web site, the FDA is awarding a $2.1 million grant to the state of Maine to help enforce laws to prevent the sale of tobacco to minors.

Dr. Lawrence Deyton, Director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, says Maine has been awarded a contract that could be worth as much as $2.1 million dollars. The money is to help enforce FDA tobacco product laws and regulations. ... "This additional money into the state to help with our inspections of retailers to ensure that there aren't any underage sales of tobacco to minors is a huge step in the right direction for Maine." The contract also provides the state with new resources as well as the authority to inspect retailers and collect evidence needed to take action when the law is broken. ... "It's the retailers who are on the front lines and who can truly be the decisive factor in helping to protect kids from starting to use tobacco," Dr. Deyton told the crowd in Augusta."

The Rest of the Story

This is a waste of money. Enforcement of youth access laws has been demonstrated to be an ineffective strategy to prevent youth smoking. A meta-analysis of multiple studies of youth access laws found no relationship between the reported compliance rates and the prevalence of youth smoking. The article concluded that: "Given the limited resources available for tobacco control, as well as the expense of conducting youth access programs, tobacco control advocates should abandon this strategy and devote the limited resources that are available for tobacco control toward other interventions with proven effectiveness."

It is unfortunate that the FDA Center for Tobacco Products is embracing this ineffective strategy, rather than evidence-based practices which have been proven effective in reducing youth smoking.

One reason why youth access laws do not work is that cigarette purchase is just one of many sources of cigarettes for youth smokers. In fact, research has shown that only about half of youth smokers purchase their own cigarettes in stores. Thus, even if all sale of tobacco to youths were halted, it would not necessarily prevent youths from being able to obtain cigarettes.

Moreover, compliance checks are a poor indication of actual sale of tobacco to minors. The youths used in these checks are often nonsmokers and it is easy for clerks to recognize that these are not legitimate purchase attempts. Furthermore, the youths are instructed to tell the truth, something they don't need to do in "real life." Thus, even when very high compliance rates can be achieved, this does not necessarily mean that it is difficult for youth to buy or obtain cigarettes.

That youth access laws are so ineffective is evidenced by the fact that the tobacco companies have long supported this approach. They realized long ago that youth access restrictions offer very little obstacle to cigarette smoking by youth.

Hopefully, the FDA will not waste millions of dollars like this in other states as well.

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