The University Record, September 24, 1996

Urban research series focuses on African Americans' well-being

By Bernie DeGroat
New and Information Services

The School of Social Work will team up with the Detroit Urban League to conduct ongoing research and advise public policy-makers on ways to improve the lives of African Americans, the University will announce today.

This new collaborative effort, the Detroit Urban League/University of Michigan Urban Research Series, will focus on the mental, physical, social and economic well-being of African Americans, says Paula Allen-Meares, dean of the School of Social Work.

"The primary objective is to study and present research findings that will be utilized by public policy-makers, social service agencies, governmental agencies and researchers interested in the conditions of African Americans," she says. "We are very excited about this partnership and its possibilities."

The collaboration should serve as a community service model for community-based organizations and universities, says Jacqueline Morrison, senior vice president of the Detroit Urban League.

"We complement each other very well," she says. "While we're experts in the service side and in advocacy and in organizing people, the University's strength is in research and academic analysis. So together, we see ourselves as being able to have an impact and, hopefully, make life better for everybody in the long run."

The formal partnership grew out of a research collaboration last year between the Detroit Urban League and John Wallace, assistant professor of social work, who conducted a study on illegal sales of tobacco products to Detroit-area teens. "The collaboration began through a series of conversations between myself and Dr. Amos Aduroja, former director of the department of health and substance abuse at the Urban League," Wallace says. "We agreed upon the need for an ongoing action-research program that focused on issues directly relevant to African Americans and a publication that would disseminate findings of the research to a wider audience than is typically reached by scholarly books and scientific journals."

According to Wallace's study---the collaboration's first research report---75 percent of some 300 Wayne County convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies sold cigarettes to minority youth ages 14-17.

Wallace and colleagues found that 93 percent of retail clerks failed to ask minors for identification, 80 percent did not ask their age, and 70 percent of stores did not display required "no tobacco sales to minors" signs.

"Despite the fact that it is illegal to sell cigarettes to minors, tobacco access laws are seldom enforced," Wallace says. "As a result, the vast majority of young people who smoke purchase their own cigarettes over the counter from retail merchants."

Wallace notes that a 1994 study found that 58 percent of area retail outlets sold cigarettes to minors.

"Given this increase in cigarette sales to minors between 1994 and 1995, it appears that simply educating retailers about the law against the sale of cigarettes to minors is an insufficient strategy by which to decrease youth access to tobacco products," he says.

Wallace suggests that clerks ask for identification of anyone trying to buy cigarettes who looks younger than 25, and that stores prominently post the required "no sales to minors" signs and place tobacco products behind the counter.

He also calls for renewed efforts to inform retail associations about the problem of cigarette sales to minors and recommends fining retailers who illegally sell tobacco products to youth.