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CHICAGO -- Retailers that remain proactive in the battle against underage smoking may be fighting a lost cause, a new study indicates.
Strict enforcement of laws barring minors from buying cigarettes fails to curtail teenage smoking, and may play into marketing ploys designed to persuade youths that smoking makes them appear more mature, researchers said yesterday.
Efforts to crack down on underage cigarette purchases at stores are routinely subverted by teenagers who turn to parents, friends, strangers or resort to stealing to feed their habits, said researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
Their report, an analysis of eight previous studies, said youth smoking rates actually rose in some communities where authorities sought to bolster age restrictions on who can buy cigarettes. There was a "positive association between increased compliance [with purchasing laws] and increased smoking prevalence [among teen-agers], which is opposite of the desired effect of these laws," study authors Caroline Fichtenberg and Stanton Glantz wrote in the journal Pediatrics.
The report said the confounding effect may be traceable to the tobacco industry's marketing pitch. Youth access programs reinforce the tobacco industry's central marketing message that kids should smoke because it will make them appear more 'adult,' the report said.
The researchers said the limited resources available to combat smoking would be better applied to strategies known to work such as media and educational campaigns, and lobbying for more smoke-free workplaces and higher cigarette taxes.