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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Evidence Review Finds Excess Tobacco Marketing in Neighborhoods with More Low-income, More African-American Residents

Researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sought to identify evidence of excess tobacco marketing being associated with the characteristics of who lives in a given neighborhood. Tobacco marketing in retail stores is one of the most common ways the tobacco industry reaches youth and adults.

[Photo: Dr. Joseph Lee]

Dr. Joseph G.L. Lee,  research analyst in the health behavior department at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, led a team that identified and reviewed 43 relevant articles that associated marketing (price, placement, promotion or product availability of tobacco) with who lives in a given neighborhood (i.e., residents’ income, race, ethnicity and how urban or rural the neighborhood is).

An article on the team’s findings, titled “A systematic review of point-of-sale tobacco marketing disparities,” was published online July 16 by the American Journal of Public Health.

The team systematically identified and examined existing research from the past 25 years and found there are more inducements to start and continue smoking in lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with more African-American residents.

The type of advertising also differs. There is strong evidence that menthol and little cigar marketing most often targets urban neighborhoods and neighborhoods with more African-American residents, while smokeless tobacco products are more often marketed in rural neighborhoods and neighborhoods with more white residents.

Point-of-sale tobacco marketing in United States retail outlets is reported to expose more than 75 percent of young people in the country to tobacco products. Recent evidence suggests a connection between this exposure and young smokers’ brand preferences and impulse purchases. Exposure to tobacco marketing also can hinder smokers’ attempts to quit.

Furthermore, smoking is estimated to be responsible for close to half of the difference in mortality between men in the lowest and highest socioeconomic groups in the U.S.

“While targeted marketing is a normal business practice,” Dr. Lee noted, “tobacco marketing causes the problem that a child born into one neighborhood ends up more exposed to tobacco marketing than a child born into another neighborhood with more money or more white residents.”

While marketing efforts also may be driven, in part, by neighborhood-specific demand for tobacco products, and while targeted marketing is a normative business practice, these disparities are a public health concern. The use of retail marketing to encourage communities of people to consume products that kill nearly 50 percent of their users is an important issue of social justice.

“It’s one thing to target marketing for a car or cereal in certain neighborhoods, but marketing tobacco products that kill about half their users more heavily in lower-income and more African-American neighborhoods is unacceptable,” Dr. Lee said.

Joining Lee in the research were Dr. Kurt Ribisl,  professor of health behavior at the Gillings School, as well as Dr. Shyanika Rose, a Gillings School alumna and currently Ellen R. Gritz postdoctoral fellow at the American Legacy Foundation, Dr. Lisa Henriksen, senior research scientist at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, and Dr. Sarah Moreland-Russell, research assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (U01CA154281, F31CA186434) and does not necessarily represent the views thereof.

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