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How does the availability of tobacco products vary across neighbourhoods?

A recent study published findings on the availability and advertising of tobacco products.

The use of tobacco products is prevalent across the United States, from cigarettes to tobacco products such as cigars and electronic cigarettes. Nicotine in these products is responsible for their addictive natures, but the most toxic effects result from burning tobacco, which releases toxic byproducts including carbon monoxide and tar. Some tobacco products do not need to be burned for usage, and can, therefore, be less harmful than combustible tobacco products.

Previous studies on tobacco sales have shown that racial and economic disparities exist, with lower income areas having higher tobacco accessibility and advertising efforts than higher income areas. These studies, however, have not compared the availability of the various types of tobacco products. In a recent study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, researchers investigated the advertising and availability practices of tobacco products in New York City.

Researchers found various stores in New York City that sell tobacco products, including vape shops, and sorted them into neighbourhoods based on their location. From each neighbourhood, they randomly 10% of tobacco product shops to be included in the study. Using data from the US Census Bureau, they also gathered information on the races and income levels of people in each neighbourhood.

Researchers then visited each of these 879 shops to survey the availability of tobacco products and how frequently each product was advertised. Due to store closures and not selling tobacco, 83 stores were excluded, leaving a total of 796 stores surveyed for the study.

Combustible tobacco products are widely advertised and available in minority communities

Cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco products, and electronic nicotine delivery products were available across New York City at rates of 96%, 78.8%, 18.2%, and 45.7%, respectively.  Cigarettes were predominantly advertised in non-chain convenience stores, followed by drug stores, and smokeless tobacco products were often advertised in non-chain convenience stores.

In neighbourhoods with a predominantly Black population, cigars and cigarellos were widely available. The latter was also found in communities with a large Hispanic population, as well as low-income neighbourhoods. Stores in areas where the majority of residents were Black or Hispanic had low rates of advertising electronic nicotine delivery products. In predominantly Caucasian neighbourhoods and higher income neighbourhoods, smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, and electronic nicotine delivery products were widely available.

The study was able to provide insight into where combustible versus smokeless tobacco products are predominantly sold, however, it was not without limitations. Neighbourhoods, where people reside, are not necessarily where they spend most of their time and buy products, a notion which the study did not account for. Furthermore, the study did not examine how much advertising is done in the stores, which could have implications on buying trends.

Targeting the availability of non-combustible tobacco products may help alleviate some health disparities that currently exist between various racial groups and socioeconomic statuses.

Written by Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Giovenco,D.P., Spillane, T.E., & Merizier, J.M. (2018). Neighborhood differences in alternative tobacco product availability and advertising in New York City: Implications for health disparities. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 1-7.



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