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Editor,—In 1996, 29% of 12–17 year old smokers in Western Australia were able to purchase cigarettes from a retail outlet despite the Western Australia Tobacco Control Act (1990) prohibiting the sale and supply of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18 years.1 2 The fines imposed on retailers prosecuted under the Act ($A5000 and $A20 000 maximum for an individual retailer and a corporate body, respectively) have not deterred retailers from selling cigarettes to minors, suggesting additional measures are needed to reduce adolescent access to cigarettes. We conducted a postal survey to determine the level of support among owners and managers of retail outlets in Western Australia for making it illegal for minors (under 18 years of age) to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, removing all indoor point-of-sale advertising and having to store cigarettes and other tobacco products out of sight, under the counter.
We chose a random sample of 630 from the 4120 eligible retail outlets in Western Australia listed in the current online Australian Yellow Pages directory. We telephoned each outlet to verify that it was still in business, obtain the name of the owner and manager of the outlet, and confirm willingness to receive the survey.
Consenting owners or managers were asked to complete a 25 item questionnaire regarding their level of support using five point Likert scales (“strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”). In view of anecdotal reports of tobacco companies underwriting the cost of re-fitting shops in return for guaranteed access to a significant proportion of the display area, we asked whether each outlet had received an offer of this kind. We also sought respondents' age, sex, country of birth, and smoking status.
Of 446 (70%) outlets agreeing to participate, 236 (53%) returned a questionnaire, yielding a 37% response from our original sample. The majority of respondents (71%) felt that cigarettes and other tobacco products were important in attracting passing trade, and 88% reported that, at least half of the time, someone buying cigarettes in the shop would also buy something else. Twenty eight per cent of the outlets had been approached by a tobacco company with an offer to meet the costs of remodelling the display and counter area. Petrol stations and food/general stores were approached more often than the other types of outlets (χ2 = 17.2; df = 4; p = 0.002).
Almost half (46%) of respondents were in favour of making it illegal for minors to sell cigarettes and tobacco, with an additional 18% undecided. Respondents born outside Australia (36%) were more likely to support this suggested change (χ2 = 11.4; df = 4; p = 0.02). Responses were similar for owners and managers, and across categories of smoking status and sex of the respondent.
One third (34%) of respondents were in favour of removing point-of-sale advertising and an additional 19% were undecided. There was little support for storing cigarettes and other tobacco products under the counter (13%).
The considerable support among owners and managers for removing all indoor (point-of-sale) advertising and making it illegal for minors to sell cigarettes is particularly noteworthy. As retailers perceive that tobacco products are important in attracting passing trade, it seems they place a premium on being able to sell cigarettes over and above being permitted to advertise them. Rather, the tobacco companies must feel it is necessary to advertise at the point-of-sale, thus exposing the whole community, young as well as old, non-smokers as well as smokers, to a message that cigarettes are a normal part of life. We have confirmed that tobacco companies do make offers to meet the costs of refitting shops, with anecdotal reports that they seek, in return, preferential rights to display their products. The reasons behind the low level of support for storing cigarettes and other tobacco products under the counter were not explored, but might include the high cost for remodelling the counter area of shops to accommodate additional storage space for tobacco products.
While further studies should be conducted to verify our results, there is already a foundation on which to build support among retailers for strengthening tobacco control legislation in Western Australia.
Correspondence to: Crystal Laurvick, Department of Public Health, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia;
This project was suggested by the advocacy committee of the Smarter Than Smoking project which is funded by Healthway, the Health Promotion Foundation of Western Australia.