Teenagers may try to buy cigarettes less often if tobacco displays are hidden, says a study. Researchers created a video game that involved buying items at convenience stores. They asked teens to buy a drink from the cooler, a snack from the aisles, and two items of their choice at the checkout counter. On the wall behind each counter were cigarettes. In some stores, they were hidden from view. In others, they were not. When the cigarettes were hidden from view, teens were much less likely to try to buy them (by clicking on them). The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. Reuters wrote about it December 3.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
When it comes to cigarettes and teens, out of sight is out of mind. At least in stores.
That's the finding of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers created virtual convenience stores in which teens (ages 13-17, both smokers and nonsmokers) were asked to go shopping in a sort of video game. They were asked to buy four things: a drink from the cooler, a snack from the aisles, and two items of their choice at the checkout counter. They bought things by clicking on them.
On the wall behind the checkout counter were cigarettes, as in many stores. The researchers created different scenarios. In some cases, the cigarettes were open to view. In other cases, they were closed. Some of the stores had ads for the cigarettes and some didn't.
Why do this experiment? The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gives states and local governments the authority to regulate tobacco advertising. As policymakers make decisions about how to regulate, it's good to have information about how advertising and cigarette placement affect teens. This is especially important because after years of decreases in youth smoking rates, those rates have now stalled.
The researchers looked to see if the teens tried to buy the cigarettes by clicking on them (if they did, and confirmed that they wanted to buy them, the virtual shopkeeper told them they weren't old enough). They also asked them questions about how difficult they thought it would be to buy cigarettes in the store.
Whether or not there were cigarette ads in the store and/or on the cabinets that held the cigarettes had some effect, but that effect wasn't consistent. However, when the cigarettes were in an enclosed cabinet, teens were consistently less likely to try to buy them.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
If you are the parent of a teen, or someone who works with or spends time with teens, talk to them about smoking. Find out how they feel about it. Find out if their friends smoke. If their friends smoke, they are more likely to try it themselves. Talk to them (preaching makes them stop listening) about the dangers of cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some great resources for this kind of information, including resources specifically for those working with teens and young adults.
This study makes it clear that if we really want to decrease youth smoking, putting cigarettes into enclosed cabinets in stores would help. Do whatever you can to help make this happen. Talk to local shopkeepers, elected officials, and parents and community leaders in your area.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Smoking cigarettes can steal the future of our youth by shortening their lives and giving them lung disease. Nobody wants that. Hopefully this study will help us as we fight to give our children the best future possible. After all, our children are our future.