All governments in Australia have identified the need to develop strategies that will reduce young people’s use and access to tobacco products. The report, ‘A National Approach for Reducing Access to Tobacco in Australia by Young People Under 18 Years of Age’ has been written to enhance the development of a coordinated national approach to reducing children’s access to tobacco. The National Approach has been developed in response to the reported high levels of adolescent smoking rates in Australia and the relative ease that children have in obtaining cigarettes. It has been developed collaboratively by the National Tobacco Policy Officers Group and the National Expert Advisory Committee on Tobacco.
It is the goal of the National Approach to provide a framework that will enhance coordination and partnerships between States and Territories, the Commonwealth and Non Government Organisations in Australia and in so doing, contribute to a reduction in young people’s access to tobacco.
The National Approach identifies six key elements for a comprehensive and effective sales to minors program. They are:
The National Approach also provides recommendations for best practice for an effective statebased
sales to minors programs. Best practice recommendations have been developed
following consultations with a range of key stakeholder organisations within each Australian
State and Territory and from an examination of Australian and international research literature.
Why is the National Approach important?Throughout Australia, youth smoking rates are causing increasing concern and research has confirmed that the decline in adolescent smoking rates seen in the late 1980’s has stopped. This trend is not unique to Australia and reflects the trend in other western countries (Hill 1999). It has been estimated that more than 276,000 secondary school students in Australia were current smokers in 1996 and if they continue to smoke throughout their life, 138,000 will die prematurely (Hill 1999).
An important contributor to the increase in adolescent smoking rates as seen in Australia and other Western countries in recent years is easy access to cigarettes (US Surgeon General 1994). This has occurred despite the fact that since the late 1980’s there has been substantial developments in youth access laws and policies that involve age restrictions for selling tobacco in these countries (Altman 1992).
In 1996, it was reported that 38 per cent of Australian students who smoked obtained their own cigarettes through illegal sales from retail outlets such as milk bars, corner stores, petrol stations and supermarkets (Hill 1999). In Australia, several studies have reported the relative ease to which young people have been able to purchase cigarettes despite the introduction of laws that make it illegal to sell tobacco products to young people (eg. Andrews 1994; Chapman 1994; Carruther 1995; Wakefield 1992; Sanson-Fisher 1992). As well, most jurisdictions have laws that make it illegal to supply cigarettes to young people yet high proportions of young people who smoke have reported obtaining cigarettes from family members and friends.
Research studies conducted in Australia and in other countries have also confirmed that legislation alone banning the sales of cigarettes to minors will not achieve any substantial effect on young people’s ability to purchase cigarettes. A comprehensive program involving education and training, active enforcement and monitoring, prosecutions, publicity and community action is needed to support the legislative program and to ensure that retailers are deterred from selling cigarettes to young people.
How is the National Approach related to the National Tobacco Strategy?The development of a national best practice model for reducing young people’s access to tobacco products was nominated as a priority under the National Tobacco Strategy endorsed by Ministers in 1999 (Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care 1999).
The National Tobacco Strategy 1999 to 2002–03 identifies two concepts relating to the availability of tobacco products, accessibility and affordability. Where and how tobacco products are sold, along with the cost of purchasing them, are factors that determine the overall availability of these products in the community (Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care 1999).
The National Tobacco Strategy recommends future strategies to address these issues including providing regular increases in the price of cigarettes, reviewing the feasibility and potential public health benefits of registration schemes for tobacco outlets and the development of a best practice model in sales to minors programs. Other strategies included in the National Tobacco Strategy focus on reducing tobacco promotion and regulating tobacco and provide a comprehensive approach to future tobacco control.
How is the issue currently being addressed in States and Territories in Australia?In recent years activities to address young people’s access to tobacco in Australia have included legislative initiatives and the development and implementation of enforcement and monitoring programs, community and retailer education strategies, training programs and evaluation studies.
To date, most of this activity has occurred at the state and territory level with individual jurisdictions having responsibility for developing and implementing legislative strategies. Whilst all jurisdictions have been active in developing support programs for their legislative programs such as enforcement, monitoring, education, training and evaluation, there are variations in the nature of these activities and the extent to which they have been undertaken.
A summary of State and Territory activities is provided in Appendix A of the National Approach package.
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Does limiting young people’s access to tobacco reduce adolescent smoking rates?Research studies have shown that there are many factors that influence young people to start and to continue to smoke. Programs that only limit access are not sufficient to reduce smoking prevalence among young people. It is important that there are mutually supportive interventions that target both the demand and supply for tobacco products by young people in order to reduce tobacco use. As well, evidence suggests that educational interventions are undermined when young people are easily able to purchase tobacco (Altman, 1992).
An important contributor to the increase in adolescent smoking rates as seen in Australia and other Western countries in recent years is easy access to cigarettes (US Surgeon General 1994). This has occurred despite the fact that since the late 1980s there has been substantial developments in youth access laws and policies that involve age restrictions for selling tobacco in these countries (Altman, 1992). Limiting young people’s access to cigarettes through legislation that restricts the sale of tobacco products is an important strategy in the prevention of adolescent smoking behaviour (Forster 1998). The strongest effects of legislation are likely to be on those (mostly adolescents) who are on the threshold of regular smoking. Making access to cigarettes more difficult for young people might limit the progression of cigarette smoking uptake or increase self-initiated adolescent smoking cessation (Forster 1998; Tang 1997).
There have been some studies that have reported reductions in smoking prevalence as a result of comprehensive sales to minors initiatives. These have been achieved in communities where there has been very high to complete compliance by retailers of local tobacco access laws and ordinances (Jason 1991; DiFranza 1992; Tutt 2000).
In an Australian study conducted in a community of New South Wales, it was reported that maintaining the rate of retail compliance with sales to minors legislation at 90 per cent or better over a number of years reduced adolescent smoking rates for all age groups in that community. It was found that in the short term, high retail compliance rates impacted mainly on the smoking rates of young age groups (12–13 year olds). The study concluded that substantial effects on the smoking rates of older age groups would only be achieved if retailer compliance were sustained at a high level over a period of years (Tutt 2000).
Two American studies have also reported reduction in smoking prevalence following programs involving active enforcement, penalties, publicity and education programs. These programs reported reductions of 69 per cent in daily tobacco use among younger smokers (Jason 1991) and 44 per cent in smoking rates by young people (Di Franza 1992) and very high to complete compliance rates.
There is also evidence that suggests that sales to minors programs can impact on the number of cigarettes smoked by young people (Laugesan 1999). Young smokers who experience more difficulty in buying cigarettes (due to the effects of enforcement on retailers), do not, as a result, buy or smoke as many cigarettes as those who have less difficulty in purchasing cigarettes.
Is the supply of tobacco products to young people an important issue?There is evidence that sales to minors programs need to incorporate specific strategies that address the supply of cigarettes from other sources. Hill et al (1999) reported that in Australia decreases in purchasing cigarettes by young people corresponded with increases in the proportion of young people obtaining cigarettes from friends and family members. As over the counter purchases become more difficult, other sources (eg adults, older children, single cigarettes) become increasingly important as alternate sources of cigarettes for young people (DiFranza 1996; Wolfson 1997).
Programs that effectively reduce access to cigarettes through over the counter sales should therefore be accompanied by strategies that address the supply of cigarettes from other sources such as friends and family.
Why is it important to have a comprehensive program?Strategies that address the demand for cigarettes by young people will be undermined if there is unlimited access to cigarettes and if there is complacency within the community and among retailers in relation to the sale of cigarettes to young people.
Comprehensive programs that involve the collaboration and support of retailers, the community, schools, enforcement agencies and the media are needed in order to reduce the sale of cigarettes to young people. It is important as well that there are strategies that address the supply of cigarettes from other sources such as vending machines, friends and family.
Research studies have confirmed that legislation alone banning sales of cigarettes to minors will not achieve any substantial effect on young people’s ability to purchase cigarettes. For legislation to be effective in terms of reducing illegal cigarette sales to minors it is important
that there are programs that provide retailers with a good understanding of the law and an understanding of the consequences associated with their failure to adhere to it. Research has found that it is important that there are strategies that harness the community’s support for the presence of these programs and that this support will impact on retailer’s actions in terms of selling cigarettes to a person aged under 18 years. Other strategies and in particular, publicity programs are also needed which will ensure that enforcement and prosecution are perceived as a real threat by retail outlets and deter retailers from selling cigarettes to young people.
In many States and Territories in Australia sales to minors programs have achieved substantial reductions in sales rates of tobacco to young people within short timeframes. In New South Wales and Western Australia where comprehensive programs have been present since the mid 1990’s, a continual decline in sales rates has been reported.
What are the recommendations for best practice provided in the National Approach?The following provides a summary of best practice recommendations provided in the National Approach:
- The inclusion of the following elements within the legislative programs of States and Territories:
- significant penalties for retailers who sell tobacco to young people (for example, greater than $5,000);
- proof of age card or equivalent photographic ID scheme for tobacco purchases;
- identification of the authority responsible for enforcement;
- provision for the prosecution of the seller, owner and/or manager (license holder);
- inclusion as an offence, the supply of tobacco to a person under the age of 18 years; and
- penalties for those who supply tobacco to minors.
- States and Territories to indicate their intention to prosecute retailers who sell cigarettes to young people.
- The phasing out of self service cigarette vending machines.
- The implementation of routine compliance monitoring of tobacco retailers involving children in test purchases to monitor the rate of illegal sales of tobacco to young people.
- The development and implementation of an education strategy for the general public to raise awareness about the issue and to promote community participation in local strategies to reduce children’s access to tobacco.
- The development and implementation of retailer education strategies that informs them of their obligations not to sell tobacco to young people under the age of 18 years.
- States and Territories to indicate their commitment to:
- providing resources and training programs for the agencies responsible for implementing effective enforcement strategies;
- ensuring regular publicity and public relations programs are included as integral components of their enforcement strategies;
- ensuring that adequate capacity is provided for their enforcement and monitoring program; and
- providing training programs for relevant enforcement bodies in collaboration with key stakeholders, enforcement agencies and health authorities.
- The development of strategies that address the supply of cigarettes to young people and are designed to compliment and operate in tandem with those aimed at reducing the sale of cigarettes to minors.
- The monitoring of the National Approach by the National Tobacco Strategy and National Expert Advisory Committee on Tobacco.
- The coordination of a review of the National Approach by the Commonwealth Government to evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy and that a comprehensive report is provided to Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy.<.li>
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