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Links between retail outlet density and smoking

New Zealand Research shows clear links between retail outlet density and smoking susceptibility

Public Health Association media release, 7 September 2015

Recent local research shows there are clear links between how many tobacco outlets exist around secondary schools susceptibility to smoking and tobacco purchasing, the Public Health Association Conference was told today in Dunedin.

Louise Marsh, from the Cancer Society’s Social and Behavioural Research Unit at the University of Otago said, despite our strong tobacco marketing restrictions, tobacco is available almost everywhere, and research indicates outlet density is higher in areas where a larger proportion of the population are younger than 18 years.

“This suggests young people may be exposed to high-risk environments during the period in which the risks of initiation of tobacco use and transitions to daily use are greatest,” she said.

The University of Otago study mapped known tobacco retail outlets with geographic information systems and secondary school locations. Student smoking data came from the 2012 ASH Year 10 survey.

“We found high density of retail outlets was associated with susceptible to smoking in the future among non-smokers and that the likelihood of students experimenting with smoking increased. Dr Marsh said this is probably because students received increased perceptions of tobacco’s acceptability and its normalisation in the school neighbourhood.

This shows that tobacco retailers’ greatest influence may be on young people not yet addicted, but willing to give it a try when they have the opportunity. In other words, where there are more opportunities to smoke, smoking will increase among young people. Once addicted they may be affected less by proximity and more by physiological factors.”

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“This provides a great opportunity to address young people experimenting with smoking as they may be more amenable to prevention efforts. Our results suggest prevention should be targeted at non-smoking students who are at the greatest risk.”

The research also found current smokers were 1.5 times more likely to purchase tobacco if the density of outlets within 1km of their school was high compared to schools who had no outlets around their school. This is likely to be because more outlets meant increased opportunities of finding retailers who would sell to people under 18.

“The ease with which youth report buying cigarettes from retailers suggest current enforcement approaches may not be sufficient. Research we published in 2012 found few young people were asked to show proof of age,” Dr Marsh said.

She said 2013 New Zealand research found support among smoking and non-smoking adults for not allowing the sale of tobacco products within 500m of a school and that further research has shown this is one of the most accepted tobacco retail endgame strategies.

“Policy makers need to restrict the density of retails tobacco outlets around schools as part of a comprehensive, innovative tobacco control programme. The Government seems to be lagging behind both smokers and non-smokers who support increased regulation of the tobacco retail environment to achieve our national Smokefree 2025 goal.”

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