Banning tobacco displays may curb youth smoking, study finds

Study compares "virtual convenience stores" with open, hidden displays

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Hiding tobacco product displays at the point of sale may help reduce smoking among young people, a new study suggests.

The study, conducted by RTI International and Tarheel Technologies and published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Pediatrics, examined the behaviors of more than 1,200 smokers and likely smokers ages 13 years to 17 years in a virtual convenience store in which tobacco products were either hidden behind a cabinet or openly displayed along with tobacco ads.

The study found that while 85.2% of subjects in stores with visible tobacco products were aware of them, only 32% of those in stores with hidden tobacco products were, and those shopping in the stores with tobacco products hidden were "significantly" less likely to purchase them.

"These results provide support for policies that would ban the display of tobacco products at the point of sale," RTI analyst and lead study author Annice Kim said. "We found that enclosing tobacco product displays significantly lowers the likelihood that youth will try to purchase tobacco in the virtual store."

At the same time, while the display of products themselves had a significant effect on purchasing attempts, banning tobacco ads had a minimal effect, according to the study.

"In the U.S., tobacco companies spend most of their advertising dollars promoting cigarettes in retail stores," Kim said. "Open displays of tobacco products normalize smoking and stimulate unplanned purchases."

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