Flavored tobacco products play a large role in leading youth into addiction, and it is estimated that three out of four youth smokers will continue to smoke well into adulthood.
A Penn State researcher is analyzing flavored tobacco sales restrictions and how they affect the availability of tobacco products and retailer advertising.
“Preventing tobacco product use among youth is critical to ending the tobacco epidemic in the United States,” said Louisa Holmes, assistant professor of geography and Social Science Research Institute cofunded faculty member.
Holmes collaborated with colleagues at University of California San Francisco to study the availability and advertising of flavored tobacco products before and after flavored tobacco sales restrictions were enacted in Alameda and San Francisco Counties, California.
The researchers visited tobacco retailers in Alameda and San Francisco in 2015 to collected data via a questionnaire adapted from the Standardized Tobacco Assessment for Retail. The researchers conducted the same assessment in 2019-2020 after some cities in the two California counties enacted policies to restrict flavored tobacco product sales.
During their retailer visits, the researchers also obtained information on tobacco product advertising, availability, and pricing. They measured both exterior and interior advertising of tobacco products and e-cigarettes along with product availability and price.
“Previous studies only measured pack litter, which could potentially include litter acquired from outside the study area,” said Holmes.
The researchers found that restrictions on flavored tobacco sales enacted in cities led to a significant reduction in their availability, and exterior advertising for those products also decreased significantly.
Overall, the availability of flavored tobacco decreased by over 90% in cities with comprehensive flavored tobacco sales restrictions and over 60% in cities with partially restrictive policies, compared to 13% in cities without any policies in place during data completion.
“We expected tobacco product sales restriction policies would have impact, but we were surprised at how dramatically sales were reduced, even in areas where policies weren’t as restrictive,” said Holmes. “Our findings suggest strong statewide or federal policies eliminating sales of flavored tobacco products implemented in a consistent manner with retailer education, engagement, and outreach are likely to have a significant impact on flavored tobacco availability.”
The work appears in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and was funded by the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Cancer Institute, and the San Francisco and Alameda County Public Health Departments.
Other researchers on the project were Lauren Kass Lempert and Pamela M. Ling, both from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California San Francisco.