Neighbourhood availability of tobacco is likely to be a factor in explaining adult smoking in Scotland

In our new paper published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research we find that adults in Scotland living in environments with a greater availability of tobacco outlets are more likely to smoke, and less likely to quit. This follows on from our earlier work, in which we found that teenagers in Scotland are more likely to smoke if they live in areas with the highest number of tobacco retailers.cigarette-counter-725x544 Greater availability of local tobacco retailing is not only likely to increase supply but also provides an important vehicle for the tobacco industry to market tobacco products. Greater prominence of tobacco products encourages impulse purchases and also affects perceived prevalence of smoking and hence the local social norms regarding its acceptability.

In our new study we combined a measure of tobacco retail density for all neighbourhoods across Scotland with data from the Scottish Health Survey which tells us much about the demographic, social and health characteristics – including smoking habits – of around 28,000 adults across the country. This allowed us to measure the association between neighbourhood tobacco retailing and (i) current smoking status and (ii) smoking cessation (whilst taking into account the other factors we know influence smoking behaviour).

The findings from the research suggest there is an association between the availability of tobacco retailers in a neighbourhood and the smoking behaviours of adults living there. Adults living in areas with the highest density of tobacco retailing had a 6% higher chance of being a current smoker (compared to areas with the lowest density). The density of tobacco retailing was also associated with a lower chance (5%) of giving up smoking. These associations did not vary by household income which suggests that all social groups are equally vulnerable to the influence of the local retailing environment.

The findings of our work have important implications for tobacco control policy. Like elsewhere, smoking in Scotland remains a key public health concern. The Scottish Government is targeting a “tobacco-free” Scotland by 2034. This ambition is unlikely to be realised without close attention to reducing the supply of tobacco. As part of a wider strategy on tobacco use, policy makers should carefully consider the utility of reducing the neighbourhood density of tobacco outlets.

This work was funded by the European Research Council (ERC-2010-StG Grant 263501)

by Jamie Pearce

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