“It’s easy to get fags”: A qualitative study of disadvantaged young people’s perspectives on cigarette availability and access

Thomas Tjelta, Deborah Ritchie, Amanda Amos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Introduction
Reducing young people’s access to cigarettes is a key element of smoking prevention policies. This article explores how young people source cigarettes following the increase in the UK minimum age of sale from 16 to 18 years.

Methods
Semi-structured individual, paired and triadic interviews with 60 disadvantaged young people aged between 12 and 17. Participants were recruited from clubs and voluntary organizations offering advice and support to disadvantaged young people.

Results
Most participants said they sourced cigarettes from shops, but understandings of “buying cigarettes from shops” included using intermediaries for proxy purchases. Access from social sources was contingent on reciprocation, and blackmarket sources were avoided. The distinction between potential and actual sources reflected participants concerns about their presentation of self. Those who bought cigarettes directly from shops accrued status and power in negotiating social hierarchies. Participants therefore highlighted their smoking related competencies, that is, ability to secure regular retail access to tobacco, while downplaying the significant difficulties they experienced.

Conclusions
The presentational dimension of youth cigarette access highlights a need for caution in associating self-reported changes in young people’s cigarette sources straightforwardly with access policies. The conflation of direct retail purchases with proxy purchases, and the interrelationship between commercial and social cigarette sources also raises issues for interpreting data on “usual” cigarette sources from national surveys. Findings suggest that some young people may still be both reliant on making retail cigarette purchases following the increase in the age of sale in the United Kingdom, and experiencing significant difficulties making these.

Implications
This study highlights the self-presentational dimension of youth cigarette access in a particular community context, and the important distinction between the apparent range of sources available and their social acceptability in young people’s social networks. Young smokers tended to conflate direct retail purchases with proxy purchases, raising issues for interpreting survey data on “usual” cigarette source. The presentational dimension of youth cigarette access also highlights a need for caution in associating self-reported changes in young people’s cigarette sources with access policies. Despite participants’ stated easy access, few were able to buy cigarettes directly, underscoring the effectiveness of youth access policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1434–1440
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Volume19
Issue number12
Early online date19 Oct 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

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