Enclosed tobacco displays appear to dissuade teens from purchasing tobacco products

Image: PD

Key points:

1. In nearly all experimental conditions, adolescents exposed to enclosed tobacco displays (behind a cabinet) were significantly less likely to buy tobacco products from a virtual store than those who saw open displays.

2. Teenage participants were less likely to perceive purchasing cigarettes as challenging in many of the virtual reality settings with enclosed display cases compared to those with open cases.

Primer: While tobacco use among adolescents is significantly lower than it once was, there remain a stable number of teenagers who smoke cigarettes. Preventing the initiation of tobacco consumption during adolescence reduces the likelihood of individuals smoking in adulthood. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to marketing targeted towards smoking initiation at the “point of sale” (POS) of a tobacco product. Both in-store advertisements and ample shelf space devoted to tobacco products are associated with greater smoking initiation among teenagers. In countries with restrictions on POS tobacco advertising, there have been significant reductions in marketing awareness. Expanding upon previous research on ease of teen tobacco purchase after exposure to in-store advertisements, the current study investigates the effects of such marketing in a virtual shop. It also explores whether absent POS advertising reduced tobacco purchases among adolescents.

Background reading:

1. A longitudinal study of exposure to retail cigarette advertising and smoking initiation [Pediatrics]

2. Cigarette advertising and teen smoking initiation [Pediatrics]

3. Tobacco promotion and the initiation of tobacco use: Assessing the evidence for causality [Pediatrics]

This [randomized, prospective virtual reality] study: featured 1,216 smoking and non-smoking teenagers (13-17 years) from a nationwide convenience sample. Participants purchased items in a virtual convenience store with that either featured tobacco products out in the open, enclosed in a case, or encased with advertisements on the outside). In-store tobacco advertising either present or absent, for a total of six conditions. Afterwards, participants were asked questions targeting perceived ease of tobacco purchase. Participant attempts to purchase tobacco products was also assessed.

When covariates such as smoking behavior, social influence, and demographics were controlled for, individuals in nearly all enclosed display conditions were significantly less likely to buy tobacco products than those who saw open displays. Non-smoking participants exposed to enclosed displays without in-store advertising were significantly less likely to find purchasing tobacco difficult than those with an open display (p < .05). Smokers exposed to in-store advertising and enclosed displays without cabinet advertisements more often believed that purchasing cigarettes would be challenging than those exposed to this condition with advertisements on the cabinet (p < .05).

In sum: While the apparent ease of tobacco purchase was not favorably influenced by enclosing display cases, the fact that fewer participants attempted to purchase the tobacco products in enclosed cases supports legislation to reduce POS tobacco advertising to young adults. It is proposed that the decreased perceived difficulty of tobacco purchasing associated with enclosed displays, but a concomitant reduced likelihood of trying to purchase tobacco may be due to a perceived lack of challenge motivating purchases in this scenario. In addition, weaknesses in experimental design, including having enclosed displays labeled with the word “cigarettes,” may have played an influential role in priming teens unintentionally with perceived increased availability of tobacco.                                                                                                               

Click to read the study in Pediatrics

By [LHC] and [DB]

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