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Association between tobacco vendor non-compliance with youth access and point of sale restrictions
  1. Jolene Dubray,
  2. Robert Schwartz
  1. Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Jolene Dubray, Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, c/o Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, 530–155 College Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M5T 3M7; jolene.dubray{at}

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A restriction banning the sale of tobacco products to underage youths (youth access) is a central component of tobacco control programmes that aim to minimise the use of tobacco products by youths. This restriction has been in place in numerous jurisdictions across North America since the mid-1990s. Recent estimates have shown between 10% and 14% of North American tobacco vendors sold tobacco to underage youths.1 2

A small number of jurisdictions have implemented restrictions on point of sale promotions of tobacco products aiming to minimise the marketing impact on youths, smokers and former smokers.3 On 31 May 2006, the province of Ontario, Canada implemented restrictions under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA) that banned tobacco point of sale promotions and advertising (eg, three-dimensional displays, promotional lighting, etc) while still allowing tobacco products to be visibly displayed at that time. Two evaluations of vendor non-compliance conducted 4 months and 12 months after the SFOA restrictions came into effect found that 12% of vendors were non-compliant with one or more point of sale restriction.4 Comparative rates of vendor non-compliance in other jurisdictions were not available since this is a relatively new international tobacco control measure.

Little is known about whether vendors who are non-compliant with one tobacco control restriction are likely to be non-compliant with other tobacco control restrictions. The aim of this study is to assess the relation between youth access and point of sale non-compliance as a means to help guide enforcement efforts.

As part of a larger evaluation that encompassed three province-wide tobacco vendor compliance surveys, this study presents findings based on data collected from the latter two compliance surveys that were conducted 4 months and 12 months post-SFOA implementation.

Two separate stratified random samples of tobacco vendors were drawn for each of the two surveys. Each sample was stratified by vendor trade class and region—Tobacco Control Area Network (TCAN). Of the seven TCANs in Ontario, roughly 240 tobacco vendors were randomly selected within each of the five southern TCANs and a total of 300 tobacco vendors were selected from the combined two northern TCANs. Within each TCAN, tobacco vendors were selected in numbers proportional to the total number of tobacco vendors in each public health unit. Each survey sample represented approximately 5% of the tobacco vendors in the largest TCAN (Toronto) and 28% of tobacco vendors from the smallest TCAN (combined northern area).

Four vendor trade classes were included in this study: chain convenience stores, independent convenience and discount stores, gas stations and grocery stores. Equal numbers of tobacco vendors were selected in each of the vendor trade classes. Out of 12 000 eligible tobacco vendors in the province, 1575 were selected for the first post-SFOA survey and 1576 for the second post-SFOA survey.

Data for both follow-up surveys were collected by public health unit enforcement staff, as part of their routine responsibilities, using standardised inspection forms. Youth access non-compliance was assessed as a successful tobacco purchase attempt by an underage test shopper. Point of sale non-compliance was assessed by the presence of one or more of six point of sale promotion prohibitions: (a) countertop displays; (b) display that permits handling by a purchaser before purchase; (c) display of cigarette cartons; (d) decorative, illuminated panels; (e) three-dimensional exhibits; and (f) outside promotional displays. Data were collected 18 September–8 October 2006 for the first follow-up survey; and 22 May–11 June 2007 for the second follow-up survey. Inspections were completed in approximately 90% of selected tobacco vendors during both follow-up surveys.

Data were weighted by the inverse of their sampling probability such that the sum of their weights represents the tobacco vendor population within each public health unit. Weighted provincial-level estimates were calculated in a two-way table that included both the youth access and point of sale non-compliance outcome measures. Owing to small numbers of tobacco vendors within some of the strata, the bootstrap method for estimating variance was applied in the analysis. Pearson's χ2 tests were conducted to determine significant differences between vendor trade classes and survey periods, and to test the association between the two types of vendor non-compliance.

Overall, 79.3% of tobacco vendors were compliant with both youth access and point of sale restrictions. Only 1.2% of tobacco vendors were non-compliant with both restrictions. The remaining 19.5% of tobacco vendors were non-compliant with one of the restrictions while being compliant with the other. There was no difference in rates of vendor non-compliance with both restrictions by vendor trade class (χ32=2.1, p=0.58) or survey period (χ12 < 0.1, p=0.97). Vendor non-compliance with the youth access restriction and point of sale restrictions were not significantly associated with one another (χ12 < 0.1, p=0.99).

The lack of an association between non-compliance may be due to the different nature of the restrictions. Point-of-sale non-compliance involves blatant public illegal activity, whereas selling tobacco to underage youths can be done discretely and can be justified as being inadvertent.

A limitation to this study is that using underage test shoppers to purchase tobacco products may result in an underestimation of vendor non-compliance since the test shoppers appear unfamiliar to tobacco vendors.

Tobacco enforcement policies should consider that non-compliance with one restriction does not predict non-compliance with another restriction of a different nature.



  • Funding Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, 393 University Avenue, 21st Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2S1.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.