Initiation as Reported by Smokers
Smoking initiation is defined as the age at which a person first smokes one whole cigarette. According to the 2016 Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA), depending on the grade, 3–7% of students in 6th, 8th, 10th, or 12th grades started smoking before turning 11.
Among Wyoming adults, about two-thirds of current, former, and experimental smokers (adults who had smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime but who had smoked a whole cigarette) smoked their first whole cigarette when they were younger than 18 years old. However, there was still a large group that smoked a whole cigarette for the first time while aged 18 to 24 (Figure 2; WYSAC, 2017a).
Preventing Youth Access
Part of the approach to preventing youth initiation of tobacco use is to limit access to tobacco products (CDC, 2014b). SAMHSA requires states to complete annual, random, unannounced inspections of tobacco retailers, known as Synar inspections. SAMHSA requires the noncompliance rate for Synar inspections to be below 20% (SAMHSA, 2010).
During Wyoming’s Synar inspections, trained 16- and 17-year-olds use standardized protocols to attempt to purchase cigarettes or smokeless tobacco from a sample of Wyoming tobacco retailers accessible to minors. Violations during Synar inspections do not result in actual sales, so citations are not issued.
Wyoming’s Synar results have been similar to the national violation rates (Figure 3). In 2012 and 2016, Wyoming’s Synar noncompliance rate was unusually high because specific geographic areas had high violation rates. Since 2007, clerks failing to ask inspectors for identification has been the strongest predictor of retailer violations (WYSAC, 2017c).
Each year, the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP) conducts additional inspections of tobacco retailers. During WASCOP inspections, adolescent inspectors attempt to purchase cigarettes. Unlike Synar inspections, these compliance checks allow law enforcement officers to issue citations to merchants who sell to minors (WYSAC, 2016). Violation rates are generally slightly higher for WASCOP inspections (Figure 4) than Synar inspections.
Even though Wyoming retailers are generally compliant with laws restricting youth access to tobacco products (WYSAC, 2016; 2017c), data show that underage youth access tobacco despite legal restrictions. Sources include relatives, unrelated adults or minors, buying it themselves, taking it, and other non-specified sources (PNA, 2016 [based on 2014 data as the most recent year the question was asked]; YRBSS, 2015).
In 2016, 24% of Wyoming middle school students and 61% of Wyoming high school students under the age of 18 said it would be easy (either sort of easy or very easy) to get some cigarettes. Students in higher grades reported easier access to cigarettes than students in lower grades (Figure 5; PNA, 2016). Synar compliance checks in Wyoming have shown that clerks are more likely to sell tobacco to older or older-looking minors (WYSAC, 2017c). Together, these findings suggest that it is easier for youth to purchase or otherwise access cigarettes as they approach the age of 18.
Increasing the price of tobacco products, usually by increasing taxes, is another strategy to reduce youth initiation of tobacco use (CDC, 2014b; Chaloupka, Yurekli, & Fong, 2012; Guide to Community Preventive Services, 2015). State tax rates vary from a low of $0.17 per pack in Missouri to a high of $4.35 per pack in New York (Figure 6). The average state tax rate on cigarettes is $1.72 (not including the federal tax or territories). Wyoming’s tax is the eighth lowest in the nation, tied with the tobacco-producing state of Kentucky (CDC, 2017).
Consistent with CDC’s approach to prevention (CDC, 2015), states that have low cigarette prevalence rates tend to have relatively high excise tax rates (Figure 7).
Consistent with every state that has implemented a significant cigarette tax increase (Farrelly Nimsch, & James, 2003), Wyoming experienced a decrease in cigarette consumption and an increase in tax revenue when it last raised its cigarette excise tax on July 1, 2003. Cigarette tax revenue increased from $6.6 million (in 2014 dollars) in the fiscal year before the tax increase took effect to $19.1 million in fiscal year 2014 (Wyoming Department of Revenue [WYDOR], ca. 2014). WYSAC generated a statistical model based on data from 1996 through 2014 that predicts that an additional $1.00 tax increase per pack could generate a total tax revenue of $48.3 million during the first year (equivalent to $50.0 million in 2017 dollars; WYSAC, 2014).