Teens are significantly less likely to try to buy cigarettes if they are hidden from view, a new study suggests.
The study, conducted using a virtual reality game, tracked the purchases of more than 1,200 teens between the ages of 13 and 17 as they "shopped" in several different convenience stores that contained different cigarette sale scenarios.
In the study researchers had asked participants to choose four items in the stores: a snack from the aisles, a drink from the refrigerators and two products of their choice from the checkout counter.
While some convenience stores featured open displays of tobacco products behind the counter, other stores hid their cigarettes behind a cabinet. Like cigarette displays, tobacco advertising was prominent, hidden or banned.
Even though the study was designed so that participants can try to buy cigarettes, researchers said that teens who asked the cashier for cigarettes were denied because of age.
The findings, published Dec. 3 in the journal Pediatrics, show that 16 to 24 percent of the teens tried to buy tobacco when the display was open, compared to 9 to 11 percent when it was closed.
Researchers explained that the prevalence of tobacco displays in advertisements in stores might give kids the false perception that smoking cigarettes is a common behavior.
"We know the retail environment is a very important place for tobacco companies to advertise and market their products," said study author Annice Kim, from the independent research institute RTI International in Durham, North Carolina, according to Reuters.
Kim explains that tobacco products are frequently prominently displayed at the point of sale and exposes all customers, including children.
Researchers said that besides negatively influencing children, tobacco displays and advertisements also influence adults to purchase cigarettes when they had not planned to, which may make it harder for current smokers to quit and may even influence recent quitters to relapse.
While researchers found that openly displayed tobacco products weren't significantly linked to teens' perceptions of how easy it would be to buy the products if a similar store existed in their neighborhood in a post-virtual shopping survey, they found that 32 percent of teens said that they were aware cigarettes were available for sale when the display case was closed in their virtual store, compared to 85 percent of those who were exposed to an open version.
"Policies that require retailers to store tobacco products out of view... could have a positive public health impact," Kim told Reuters.
However, she noted that the latest study would still need to be considered along with other studies on display restrictions before official policy recommendations can be made.
Published by Medicaldaily.com