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Study of off-campus tobacco retailers finds types of tobacco products sold and advertised varies by store type, changes over time

Nationally, the number of colleges with tobacco-free campus policies is rising; however, students may still be still exposed to tobacco products off campus. A recent study assessed availability, marketing, and promotion of tobacco products (cigarettes, snus, and smokeless tobacco [SLT]) among communities surrounding 11 college campuses in North Carolina and Virginia. Trained observers completed 481 total point-of-sale assessments at 334 unique tobacco retailers, including convenience stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets, over a three-year period. There were three waves of data collection. A repeated cross-sectional design was used to select and observe up to 15 tobacco retailers within a one-, two- or five-mile radius of each campus. Each observation took about 10-15 minutes to complete; data were recorded in the field by trained study team members. Measures included store type, availability of each type of tobacco product, counts of advertising inside the store, counts of advertising outside of the store on its premise, and the presence of product promotions (i.e., buy-one-get-one, multi-pack discounts). Results indicated cigarettes were the most widely available tobacco product and were available at all stores in the sample and over 80% of stores sold SLT products each year. Convenience stores and supermarkets were among the types of stores most likely to sell SLT products, whereas pharmacies were the least likely type. To compare the prevalence of selling each product by year across different types of stores, the researchers used Pearson’s chi-square tests; Fisher’s Exact Tests were applied in small sample size comparisons. The authors did not find any statistically significant changes in the number of stores that sold SLT products over time; however, snus availability decreased from 80.4% of retailers in 2012 to 58.6% of retailers in 2011 (p < 0.001). 70-75% of retailers offered product promotions each year, most commonly for cigarettes. Significant increases in the number of promotions for SLT products were observed among convenience stores (without gas) (3.1% in 2011 to 23.3% in 2013, p = 0.02), as well as for convenience stores with gas for cigarettes (65.4% in 2011 to 72.8% in 2013, p = 0.04). Nearly all (94-96%) stores displayed interior tobacco product advertisements and 61-65% displayed exterior advertisements. There were no significant changes in exterior advertising for any product during the study, but the number of stores with interior advertising for snus decreased from 80.1% in 2011 to 53.1% in 2013 (p < 0.0001).

Take away: In this sample of 481 observations of campus-community tobacco retailers, the proportion of stores selling and advertising snus decreased significantly over time. Most stores displayed interior and exterior tobacco product advertisements and promotions for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products significantly increased during the study period.

Citation: Wagoner KG, Song E, King JL, et al. (2017). Trends in point-of-sale tobacco marketing around college campuses: Opportunities for enhanced tobacco control efforts [published online ahead of print October 11 2017], Journal of American College Health doi: 10.1080/07448481.2017.1389734

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