Study leader Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health said the strength of smoking regulations is associated not with the transition from non-smoking to experimentation, but with the transition from experimentation to established smoking.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, observed a 40 percent reduction in the odds of progression to established smoking in towns with local restaurant smoking bans and suggest smoke-free policies may be the most effective intervention available to reduce youth smoking.
The researchers note smoking bans may influence youth by reducing their exposure to smokers in public places and may also alter the perceived social acceptability of smoking.
"Both of these effects would be expected to influence the transition from experimentation to established smoking but not experimentation in the first place," the study authors said in a statement.
The researchers studied 3,834 Massachusetts youth -- age 12 to 17 at the first interview conducted between 2001 and 2002. Of those, 2,791 were interviewed again two years later and 2,217 were interviewed four years later.