California shows initial signs of T21 taking effect

First evaluation from CA

Last month, an evaluation team from the State of California released their first findings in compliance to the new law. The research article outlines the state’s process in passing and implementing their Tobacco 21 law. The authors also note that other articles evaluating the effectiveness of T21 are limited to a local lens. This study provides the first look at the effectiveness of statewide T21 laws.

Methods and Evidence

The research team utilized an effective logic model to identify activities and deliverables used in the process. They also included short-, medium-, and long-term outcomes of the policy. This study mainly focuses on short-term outcomes, given the short length of time available to conduct research.

Additionally, the researchers conducted polling related to tobacco products for retailers and adults. These polls give important information on the attitudes and perceptions of the law within the retailer and adult populations. While the adult survey was administered pre- and post-T21, the retailer survey was only conducted post-T21. Adult support for the law differs across demographics and is examined very closely in the ‘Discussion’ section of the article.

Most interesting about this research article are the Tobacco Purchase Surveys using minor operatives and decoys to check compliance with the law among sales to minors and sales to 18-20 year old age group. These surveys were non-enforcement-related checks and did not result in disciplinary action. However, the checks provide good evidence for the effectiveness of T21 and the inclusion of compliance checks in a robust enforcement program.

Decrease in sales to minors

Data from compliance checks for teens under 18 points towards a decrease in the availability and access of tobacco products. The research shows a significant decline in illegal sales to teens 15-16 years old and notes the first significant decline in the survey data since 2009. This decline is attributed to the short-term effectiveness of T21.

This data is a strong representation of the retail environment, however, we are still waiting on tobacco use data from California State surveys. The article notes that the survey data may not yield results because the elapsed time between data collection pre- and post-T21 implementation was too short.

Importance of evaluation

In public health, our practice is informed through theory and evidence of strong policies. In the case of T21, the theory and rationale is solid. However, there is still a need for strong evaluation data supporting the theories behind this policy. This will increase the evidence base and improve momentum among many state legislatures. The continuation of research and evaluation like that being conducted in California is key to the success of T21 laws.

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March 7, 2018

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