There are more tobacco retailers in neighborhoods with a higher proportion of low-income and minority residents, according to a new study from the state Department of Health.
The study examined the relationship between demographic factors such as community income, race and ethnicity and median age in seven communities, including Albany.
Michael Seilback, vice president for public policy and communications for the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said the study confirms what his organization has been hearing anecdotally from residents of low-income and minority communities throughout the state.
“Tobacco companies are literally wallpapering these communities with marketing for their deadly product,” Seilback said. “Now, we’re seeing scientific proof that what we’ve been hearing anecdotally is true.”
Seilback said tobacco companies are targeting residents of low-income and minority communities because they need a new generation of “replacement smokers” to make up for smokers who quit or die.
Though smoking rates have dropped throughout the state, they have actually doubled in some low-income communities, Seilback said. He said the reasons are unclear, but raises questions about the impact of marketing, as well as the challenge of getting public health messages across in these communities.
Seilback said he hoped the study would convince legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo that more funding for anti-smoking messages in low-income communities is needed. He noted the state has reduced funding for anti-smoking programs in recent years.
Other studies have shown marketing in retail stores contributes significantly to youth tobacco use. For example, the 2012 Surgeon General’s report “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults” found there’s “strong and consistent” evidence that tobacco marketing influences teenagers in their selection of brands, decision to take up smoking and overall consumption.
Judy Rightmyer, program director for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, said most tobacco marketing is geared toward teenagers and young adults, to get them to start smoking.
“Youth are susceptible to [tobacco] marketing,” she said, and if people don’t take up smoking before the age of 26, they are unlikely to ever start.
Yvonne Graham, director of the state Health Department’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Prevention, said in a statement the study’s findings demonstrate tobacco marketing is more likely to target minority and low-income people who “may be particularly vulnerable to industry practices that recruit new smokers, as demonstrated by their higher tobacco use rates.”
Both Seilback and Rightmyer believe more needs to be done to address cigarette advertising and display in stores. Seilback spoke last week in support of New York City’s Sensible Tobacco Enforcement Proposal, which, if passed, would require tobacco products be kept out of sight in retail stores, with the goal of lowering youth smoking rates.
The Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition supports legislation that would bar the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies in Albany County. If passed, Albany County would be the first county in the state to take such action.
Rightmyer said her organization also supports making cigarettes more expensive, because youth are deterred by high prices.
The tobacco density study, written by scientists from the Health Department’s Bureau of Tobacco Control in collaboration with RTI International, a North Carolina research institute, was published in March in the journal Public Health.