A recent study by researchers at The University of Edinburgh and The University of Glasgow has concluded that teenagers with more tobacco shops in their home neighbourhoods are almost 50 per cent more likely to smoke than teens from areas without tobacco stores.
The study has also found that teens from areas with the highest density of retailers are 53 per cent more likely to try smoking at least once.
The conclusion was drawn after re- searchers correlated smoking habits from the surveyed responses of over 20,000 pupils aged between 13 and 15 to a map of tobacco retailers in every postcode in Scotland.
The study of Scottish teenagers’ smoking habits and tobacco outlet density in their home and school environments is the first of its kind in the UK and the results seem to be widespread, affecting teenagers living in all neighbourhoods instead of just those with high levels of poverty.
Professor Richard Mitchell, a professor of Health and Environment at The University of Glasgow said: “We were surprised by how strong an influence the retail environment was on teenagers’ smoking behaviour. The results are good news because they offer a new tool with which to try and reduce smoking rates.”
The findings are part of the Scottish Government’s Tobacco Control Strategy, an ambitious five-year action plan with the intent of reducing tobacco use in Scotland to a mere five per cent by 2031.
Key actions of the plan include launching a pilot schools-based peer support program based on the Welsh
ASSIST program, the enforcement of smoke-free hospital grounds by March 2015, and a national marketing campaign on the dangers of second-hand smoke in cars and other enclosed spaces.
Doctor Niamh Shortt, a senior lecturer in Human Geography at The University of Edinburgh, is a strong advocate of reducing tobacco retailers as an anti-smoking measure:
“The Scottish Government has signalled its intent for a ‘tobacco-free’ Scot- land by 2034. Our research shows that as part of this plan we need to consider regulating the number of retailers sell-
ing tobacco in our neighbourhoods.” The limitation of adolescent access to tobacco products has been described as “vital”by researchers, many of whom stress that the long-term consequences of youth smoking are reinforced by the fact that most young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke throughout adulthood.
Although tobacco control measures often prioritise the reduction of outlets in school neighbourhoods, researchers have found no evidence that teenagers attending schools in areas with high numbers of retailers are more likely to smoke.