UNC and partners to study policies to restrict tobacco marketing at point of sale: multi-institutional $6.7 million research grant awarded

The way tobacco products are marketed and sold changed with the June 2009 passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. For example, this law mandates larger and stronger warning labels on packs and advertising and prohibits the sale of “light” and clove cigarettes. The FDA Act also now allows states and local communities to regulate the time, place, and manner of tobacco advertising. Thus, states could restrict tobacco promotions or restrict the location of tobacco advertising.

But how are states and retail establishments implementing these policies and are they complying with the new mandates? To answer this question UNC scientist Kurt Ribisl, PhD, will partner with colleagues at Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis to conduct research on how to maximize state & local policies to restrict tobacco marketing at the point of sale. The five-year grant, from the National Cancer Institute, is $6.77 million.

Ribisl, associate professor of health behavior and health education in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is one of the three principal investigators of the grant. Ribisl is a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center who has studied tobacco industry marketing strategies in retail outlets, interventions to reduce youth access to tobacco, and the sales and marketing of tobacco products on the Internet.

The other principal investigators are Lisa Henriksen, PhD, senior research scientist at the Stanford School of Medicine’s Prevention Research Center in Palo Alto, California, and Douglas A. Luke, PhD, professor of public health at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he directs the Center for Tobacco Policy Research.

The tobacco industry spends 85.3 percent of its $7.17 billion marketing and promotional budget at stores, underscoring the need for tobacco control programs to focus on this venue. Dr. Ribisl’s research has documented large amounts of tobacco advertising in stores and Dr. Henriksen has conducted longitudinal research showing that youth exposed to greater amounts of tobacco marketing at stores are more likely to become smokers. Greater amounts of advertising near schools are of particular concern.

Dr. Ribisl and Dr. Luke recently published a study documenting that the FDA could eliminate over 1.5 million tobacco ads by banning cigarette advertising within 1,000 feet of schools. “We are excited that NCI funded our team to conduct the most comprehensive study ever conducted related to the sales and marketing of tobacco product at retail outlets. Not only will we document that extent of the problem, but we will study how states and communities adopt new policies to counteract the tobacco industry at the point of sale and whether these are working."

The scientists will examine changes in the amount and type of tobacco marketing materials and pack prices in a representative sample of 2,000 U.S. tobacco retailers in 40 states. They will conduct implementation research that will guide states and communities seeking to more effectively regulate point of sale tobacco marketing. They will interview all state tobacco programs in the US to document what they are doing at the point of sale. Additionally, they will collect data on approximately 400,000 tobacco retailers to describe annual changes in the density and composition of tobacco outlets in the U.S.

They will be assisted in this research by a National Tobacco Point-of-Sale Consortium, an expert group composed of local, state and federal tobacco control program managers, advocates, and attorneys.

State and Community Tobacco Control Research Initiative

NCI has funded a cooperative agreement for scientific research projects that will address important under-studied aspects of state and community tobacco control policy and media interventions. Focal areas of scientific inquiry will include secondhand smoke policies, tax and pricing policies, tobacco industry marketing and promotion, mass media countermeasures, and community and social norms. NCI will support both observational and intervention studies that address tobacco use and exposure in the United States while also examining the effectiveness of state and community tobacco control policy and media interventions. The NCI State and Community Tobacco Control (SCTC) Research initiative includes seven research project centers and one coordination research center.