FDA Restrictions on Outdoor Cigarette Ads Near Schools May Hurt Business Less than Industry Says

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new rules restricting outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and playgrounds in 2009, the tobacco industry argued that such rules would lead to a near complete ban on tobacco advertising in urban areas. An article in the March 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that the effect of these rules would be less severe on businesses than the industry contends.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - "However, easing the rules could cripple the impact of the law upon reducing children's exposure to tobacco advertising," said Kurt Ribisl, PhD, associate professor of health behavior and health education at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and one of the authors of the paper. "Children and adolescents are very susceptible to cigarette ads."

A 2008 National Cancer Institute report, "The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use," concluded that tobacco advertising implies tobacco use is safe, healthful and a widely practiced behavior, and it falsely associates tobacco use with youth, energy and sex appeal.

"These themes and images resonate with youth," said Ribisl, who is also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Limiting youth exposure to outdoor tobacco ads is critical to protecting their health. The regulations should not be weakened because the tobacco companies are fighting to place cigarette ads closer to schools."

Tobacco industry representatives argue that retailers who sell cigarettes would be hurt by a cigarette-ad-free buffer zone around schools.

"It is critical to point out one subtle but important difference between the analysis that the tobacco industry conducted and the analysis presented here," commented lead investigator Douglas A. Luke, PhD, professor at the Center for Tobacco Policy Research at Washington University in St. Louis.

"Their analyses focused on the percentage of land area off-limits to tobacco advertising. In this study, the number and proportion of retailers affected were calculated, not the land percentage. The number of retailers affected, not the land area, is the more appropriate metric to use when making policy decisions," Luke said.

"First, the 'real-world' regulatory impact is felt by people and businesses, not by land. Second, tobacco retailers are clustered in commercial zones, and showing that a high percentage of all land is unavailable for advertising under outdoor advertising bans overstates the impact of the policy. A key question is not what percentage of land is off-limits under an advertising ban, but rather, what is the additional or incremental impact of an advertising ban, given existing zoning regulations."

Using geographical information system (GIS) spatial analysis for the states of Missouri and New York, along with more detailed analyses of the urban areas of St. Louis and New York City, investigators located all tobacco retailers falling within 350-, 500- and 1000-foot buffer zones around all schools and parks. They determined that 22 percent of retailers in Missouri and 51 percent in New York fall within 1,000-foot buffers around schools. In urban settings, more retailers are affected - 29 percent in St. Louis and 79 percent in New York City. Sensitivity analyses demonstrate that smaller buffers decrease the proportion of affected retailers. For instance, 350-foot buffers affect only 6.7 percent of retailers in St. Louis and 29 percent in New York City.

Therefore, in Missouri and New York, outdoor tobacco advertising would still be permitted in many locations even if such advertising was prohibited in a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools and parks. Much smaller buffer zones of 350 feet may result in almost no reduction of outdoor advertising in many parts of the country. The FDA is still deciding the distance from schools at which they will ban outdoor tobacco advertising. Given the lack of impact of a 350-foot ban, the authors urge the FDA to reject that as an option and implement a distance that is more effective at reducing outdoor advertising where children routinely will be exposed to it. If the 1,000-foot buffer zone were implemented, the authors estimate that up to 1.5 million pieces of outdoor tobacco advertising would be removed across the country.

Buffer zones where no outdoor advertisements are allowed have been proposed by the FDA and public comment has been solicited. The tobacco industry contends that a 1000-foot buffer zone in urban areas would be equivalent to a total ban and therefore unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

"Tobacco advertising reaches children and adolescents in a variety of ways," the study concludes. "Given the effectiveness of tobacco advertising, efforts to restrict the exposure of young people to tobacco advertising is an important health policy goal. The current health policy analyses suggest that weakening of outdoor advertising policies may result in phantom policies that do little to reduce youth exposure to tobacco product advertising."

The article, "Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act: Banning Outdoor Tobacco Advertising Near Schools and Playgrounds," by Luke, Ribisl, Carson Smith, BA; and Amy A Sorg, MPH, appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 40, Issue 3 (March 2011).

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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact:
Ramona DuBose An icon indicating that a link will launch an email program., Director of Communications, 919-966-7467