Aims: To estimate the impact of introducing sales restriction laws in Europe by measuring changes in adolescent smoking prevalence and perceived obtainability of cigarettes over time in countries that have recently introduced sales restriction laws (intervention countries). These countries were compared with countries where such laws were already in force (control countries). The secondary aim was to test whether these trends differed between adolescents of higher and lower socioeconomic position (SEP).
Design: Repeated cross-sectional data were used in a quasi-experimental pre-post design. Intervention countries raised tobacco sales restrictions to 18 years in 2007, 2008 or 2009. Control countries had sales restrictions of 18 years since at least 2004. Setting 19 European Union (EU) countries, in 2007 and 2011. Participants Data of 97,245 15 and 16-year-old adolescents from the 2007 and 2011 European Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) surveys.
Measurements: Dependent variables were smoking status (weekly smoking vs. non-smoking or less than weekly smoking) and perceived obtainability of tobacco (easy vs. difficult). Key independent variables were time (2007 or 2011), intervention exposure (intervention or control country) and their interaction (time*intervention). Covariates included sex, SEP, the tobacco control scale (TCS), gross domestic product (GDP), and adult smoking prevalence.
Findings: We did not find a difference in the change in smoking prevalence between intervention and control countries (odds ratio (OR) = 1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.93-1.07). However, sales restrictions were associated with a significantly greater decrease in perceived ease of cigarette obtainability in intervention countries (OR = 0.75, 95%CI = 0.70-0.80). No significant differential effects between high and low SEP adolescents were found (OR = 1.01, 95%CI = 0.81-1.25).
Conclusion: Laws prohibiting the sales of tobacco to minors in Europe do not appear to be associated with a reduction in adolescent smoking rates, but lower the perceived obtainability of cigarettes irrespective of their socioeconomic position.