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Bad News for Prevention: Point-of-Sale Advertising is Causing More Adolescents to Start Smoking
July 20, 2010 - A new study to be published in the August issue of Pediatrics has found substantial evidence to conclude that point-of-sale cigarette advertising increases the risk of smoking initiation among adolescents.  Considering that in 2006 ninety percent of the tobacco industry’s marketing budget was spent on point-of-sale advertisements, the results from this study have significant meaning for public health.
Researchers measured three different exposures to retail advertising: how often students visited any convenience store, small market, or liquor store (all of which are types of stores that contain the most cigarette advertising); where and how often students visited stores near school (cigarette advertising was assessed in the reported stores); and how often students perceived they saw cigarette ads when they visited stores.  Exposures and the transition from never to ever smoking were assessed among 1681 adolescents (aged 11-15 years) who had never smoked before using a school-based survey to conduct follow-up at 12 and 30 months after baseline.
Researchers found that after 12 months, 18% of adolescents had initiated smoking.  Results also showed that the probability of smoking increased with more frequent store visits, with a 29% incidence among students who visited stores at least twice per week and only a 9% incidence among those who reported visiting stores less than twice per month (the lowest visit frequency).  The odds of smoking initiation after 12 months more than doubled for those who reported more than two store visits per week compared to those who reported moderate store visits per week (0.6 to 1.9 visits per week).  Researchers found consistent associations at 30 months of follow-up as well.
Results from this study have serious implications and suggest that policies which “limit adolescents’ exposure to retail cigarette advertising could improve smoking prevention efforts.”  Smoking prevention among adolescents is especially important since smoking initiation among this age-group increases the risk for adult smoking.  With the recent introduction of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, point-of-sale advertisements will hopefully have less of an effect on smoking initiation among adolescents.  However, more policies are still needed if we are to continue to increase the speed of decline in smoking rates among U.S. adolescents.