Where Teens Get Smokes and Booze

Alcohol and cigarettes obtained for teens by friends and family

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It’s illegal to sell alcohol and cigarettes to minors, but many underage youths get ahold of these substances anyway. It may be that friends and family are providing access.

In a recent survey of middle- and high-school students, researchers asked how they got ahold of cigarettes and alcohol.

These researchers found that most teens were able to obtain alcohol and cigarettes from friends or family members.

"Talk to your kids about drinking and smoking."

Led by Robert Mann, PhD, who is a Senior Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital in Canada, a team of researchers surveyed Canadian youth on their access to alcohol and cigarettes.

There are laws that prohibit minors from purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, but many underage teens still manage to get their hands on these substances. 

For this study, data was collected from the ongoing Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS).

Beginning in 1977, the OSDUHS has been given every two years to 7th through 12th graders in 40 schools all over Ontario, Canada.

By September 2013, the survey had been completed by 9,288 students.

According to the survey results, 39 percent of drinkers said that “someone” had given them alcohol, and 28 percent said they had given money to another person to purchase alcohol for them.

Only 2 percent of the students reported that they had bought alcohol from a beer store, and 4 percent had purchased alcohol from a liquor store.

Teens in rural areas were less likely to be given alcohol by someone else than teens who drank in urban areas — 35 percent versus 40 percent, respectively.

Although, 33 percent of teens in rural areas said they were able to give money to someone else to buy them alcohol. And 27 percent of teens in urban and suburban areas said they were able to obtain alcohol by giving someone else money to make the purchase.

Trends in survey responses showed that older students had a tendency to give someone else money to buy them alcohol (32 percent), but only 2 percent of younger students followed this behavior.

The younger students were more likely to be given alcohol by someone else (53 percent) compared with older students (37 percent).

Among smokers, 58 percent said that a friend or family member had given them the last cigarette that they had smoked.

Only 19 percent of the smoking students had obtained their most recent cigarette from a convenience store, grocery market or gas station.

There were differences in responses between the boys and girls. Retail outlets, such as convenience stores, provided cigarettes to 26 percent of male responders, compared with only 10 percent of female participants.

A total of 73 percent of the girls said they had gotten their last smoke from a friend or family member, compared with only 46 percent of the boys.

“Despite efforts to curb youth smoking and prevent youth alcohol use, the survey tells us that youth are still able to easily access these substances, often from the very people who should be looking out for their wellbeing,” Dr. Mann said in a press statement.

“It is also very clear that young people find it much easier to obtain cigarettes from corner stores than to obtain alcohol from liquor or beer stores,” Dr. Mann said.

These survey results were published in September on the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website. These results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is affiliated with the University of Toronto and has associations with the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaboration Centre. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
September 25, 2013
Last Updated:
September 25, 2013