Introduction: This study examined whether a policy of banning tobacco product retailers from operating within 1000 feet of schools could reduce existing socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in tobacco retailer density.
Methods: We geocoded all tobacco retailers in Missouri (n = 4730) and New York (n = 17 672) and linked them with Census tract characteristics. We then tested the potential impact of a proximity policy that would ban retailers from selling tobacco products within 1000 feet of schools.
Results: Our results confirmed socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in tobacco retailer density, with more retailers found in areas with lower income and greater proportions of African American residents. A high proportion of retailers located in these areas were in urban areas, which also have stores located in closer proximity to schools. If a ban on tobacco product sales within 1000 feet of schools were implemented in New York, the number of tobacco retailers per 1000 people would go from 1.28 to 0.36 in the lowest income quintile, and from 0.84 to 0.45 in the highest income quintile. In New York and Missouri, a ban on tobacco product sales near schools would either reduce or eliminate existing disparities in tobacco retailer density by income level and by proportion of African American.
Conclusions: Proximity-based point of sale (POS) policies banning tobacco product sales near schools appear to be more effective in reducing retailer density in lower income and racially diverse neighborhoods than in higher income and white neighborhoods, and hold great promise for reducing tobacco-related disparities at the POS.
Implications: Given the disparities-reducing potential of policies banning tobacco product sales near schools, jurisdictions with tobacco retailer licensing should consider adding this provision to their licensing requirements. Since relatively few jurisdictions currently ban tobacco sales near schools, future research should examine ways to increase and monitor the uptake of this policy, and assess whether it has an impact upon reducing exposure to tobacco marketing and on tobacco product availability and use.
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