Study: Limiting Tobacco Visibility In-Store Reduces Teen Smoking Risk

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — When it comes to tobacco products, a new study finds it's out of sight, out of mind for potential underage purchasers.

According to newly released research from RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization, keeping tobacco products out of view in convenience stores significantly reduces teenagers' susceptibility to future cigarette use, compared to when tobacco advertising and products are visible. The study was conducted in a laboratory replica of a convenience store.

Researchers found an 11-percent reduction in cigarette smoking susceptibility when the tobacco "power wall" was hidden, vs. when the display of tobacco products was visible behind the cashier.

"These findings suggest limiting the visibility of tobacco displays in retail stores may reduce the number of young people who try cigarettes," said William Shadel, associate director of the RAND Population Health Program and senior behavioral scientist at RAND. The findings are being published in the journal, Tobacco Control.

In recent years, the tobacco industry has shifted most of its advertising from places such as magazines and billboards to point-of-sale advertising in retail locations. Canada and several other countries have enacted laws requiring that the power wall, or tobacco back bar, be hidden from view and only customers of legal age may view tobacco products.

For the RAND study, researchers had teens visit a replica of a convenience store to do shopping while the tobacco power wall was in one of three locations: behind the cashier, on a sidewall away from the cashier, or hidden behind a screen.

A total of 241 adolescents aged 11-17 participated in the study. The teens were told the study was looking at adolescent c-store shopping habits. Teens were enrolled in the study regardless of past tobacco use.

After completing a pre-shopping questionnaire, the teens were randomized to one of the three experimental conditions and given $10 to spend in the store any way they wanted. The RAND convenience store laboratory is 1,500 square feet and stocked with more than 650 products.

The teens then filled out a post-shopping experience questionnaire to determine their attitudes toward smoking and susceptibility to future smoking. The susceptibility assessment included three questions: 

  • Do you think you will try a cigarette anytime soon?
  • Do you think you will smoke a cigarette anytime in the next year?
  • If one of your best friends offered you a cigarette, would you smoke it?

Researchers found hiding the tobacco power wall significantly reduced teenagers' susceptibility to future cigarette smoking, compared to leaving the tobacco advertising visible. Moving the power wall to a less-obvious location did not have any effect.

Researchers say the results provide information that the federal Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products could potentially use to make future regulatory decisions for point-of-sale tobacco advertising.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products.

Santa Monica-based RAND Health is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on population health, health care costs, quality and public health systems, among other topics.

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