OBJECTIVE: To examine the effect of cigarette taxes, limits on public smoking, laws regulating access to tobacco by young people, and exposure to pro-tobacco and anti-tobacco messages on smoking participation and the intention to smoke among ninth-grade students (aged 13-16). DATA SOURCES: Two cross-sectional, school-based surveys (total of 15432 responses) of ninth-grade students conducted in 21 North American communities in 1990 and 1992 in conjunction with the Community Intervention Trial for Smoking Cessation. OUTCOME MEASURES: A ninth-grader was classified as a smoker if he or she reported smoking a whole cigarette on at least one of the 30 days preceding the survey. Among non-smokers, a positive intention to smoke was attributed to those who claimed they probably or definitely would be smoking within a year. RESULTS: Both smoking participation and the intent to smoke were related to differences in cigarette prices, with estimated price elasticities of -0.87 and -0.95, respectively. Boys were far more sensitive to price than girls with respect to smoking participation (elasticities of -1.51 and -0.32, respectively); however, the effect of price on the intent to smoke was similar for boys and girls. Policies limiting minors' access to tobacco (a minimum purchase age of 18 years, a ban on cigarette vending machines, and a ban on giving away free samples of tobacco products) were associated with reductions in participation and intention to smoke. Exposure to tobacco education in school was associated with decreased participation and intention to smoke. Policies that prohibited smoking in public places and in schools were not significantly related to the smoking patterns of ninth-graders. Frequency of exposure to pro-tobacco advertisements was marginally associated with increased participation and intention to smoke; paradoxically, frequency of exposure to anti-tobacco advertisements was correlated with an increased likelihood of smoking. CONCLUSIONS: Policies limiting access to tobacco by young people, increasing education about the effects of tobacco use, and a sharp and sustained increase in real cigarette excise taxes are likely to be most successful in accomplishing the US Food and Drug Administration's goal of cutting the smoking prevalence of adolescents in half over the next seven years.
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