Background: Individuals of lower socioeconomic position smoke at higher rates than those of higher socioeconomic position. Because of this disparity, the National Cancer Institute has called for studies of targeted tobacco marketing to clarify mechanisms contributing to higher tobacco use among low-income Americans and other high-risk populations.
Methods: We observed tobacco industry marketing in six Boston area communities (two of high socioeconomic position and four of low position; total of 41 observations) and in selected print publications that circulated in those communities during a 22-month period in 2000-2002.
Results: On average, there were fewer tobacco advertisements in the higher socioeconomic communities, compared to the lower socioeconomic communities (P < 0.001). In the low socioeconomic communities, there were more than three times as many brand advertisements as youth access signs (P = 0.0012). Although brand advertisements outnumbered smoke-free signs, on average, there was no difference in the ratio of brand advertisements to smoke-free signs in low and high socioeconomic communities (P = 0.06).
Conclusions: The tobacco industry is actively present in community settings, particularly in communities with a low socioeconomic profile (SEP). Tobacco control researchers and advocates need to continue to monitor the tobacco industry's behavior at the community level and develop strategies to counter this behavior.