The characteristics of storefront cigarette advertising in the minority, low-income community of Dorchester (02124) were compared with the predominantly white, high-income community of Brookline. In Dorchester, a greater proportion of cigarette advertising was found and a significantly greater percentage of retailers displayed storefront cigarette advertising, compared with Brookline. Greater proportions of advertisements in Dorchester were larger, promoted menthol products, included a price, and featured a lower mean price, compared with Brookline. Such advertising features may appeal to youth. When advertisements were weighted by size, these differences in advertisement characteristics became more pronounced. Strikingly, after controlling for other advertisement characteristics, advertisements in Dorchester were almost twice as likely to be located within 1000 feet of a school, compared with Brookline. The data suggest that tobacco companies, with the implicit cooperation of retailers, may be using advertising features not explicitly banned under the MSA to promote tobacco use among youth and persons of minority race and low-income background.
The dissimilarities in storefront cigarette advertising raise serious concerns for public health protection and promotion. Current trends reveal that African-Americans are disproportionately affected more by tobacco-related morbidity and mortality compared with white Americans.25
In addition, census data reveal that Dorchester has a larger proportion of residents under 18 years than Brookline (). This potential for greater exposure to youth, combined with use of advertisement features that are known to appeal to youth, may give rise to a disproportionately greater influence of tobacco advertising on youth in Dorchester, compared with Brookline.
The findings of more cigarette advertising and menthol cigarette advertising in Dorchester are consistent with previous advertising surveys conducted both before and after the MSA. Prior research has documented higher concentrations of tobacco billboards26,27
and greater retail advertising15,16
in minority and low-income communities. Pucci et al.16
also identified a higher percentage of menthol brand advertising (Newport, Kool, and Salem) in predominantly Latino and African-American communities compared with predominantly nonminority communities. In addition, a survey conducted prior to the MSA in Massachusetts found menthol advertising to be two to three times more likely to be located in minority communities.20
Detached advertisements were commonly placed in prominent locations such as sidewalks, attached to telephone poles, and in parking lots. These placements may enhance visibility of the advertisements to customers and passersby. Unweighted analysis did not show a difference in the proportion of cigarette advertisements that were detached between the two communities. However, after weighting the advertisements by size, a significantly greater proportion of larger detached advertisements were found in Dorchester. Because of the larger size and detached placement of these advertisements, opportunities of exposure may be greater for youth in Dorchester.
To the authors’ knowledge, this is the second study to document outdoor cigarette advertisement size and the first to compare other advertising characteristics based on size.8
The study assumed that larger advertisements have a greater visual impact than smaller advertisements, and secondary analyses were performed after weighting each advertisement by size. Under the advertising regulations promulgated by the MSA, advertisement size was an important restriction implemented to help curtail advertising to youth. However, more research is needed to better understand how cigarette advertisement size affects visibility and perception of the advertisement’s messaging. This is only the second study known to the authors to document advertised cigarette prices in storefront advertising. Jason et al.22
found that the percentage of storefront tobacco advertisements with prices decreased between 1999 and 2001 in 11 towns in Northern Illinois. The authors cited increased cigarette prices following the MSA as a possible explanation for this trend. This study found a greater percentage of storefront cigarette advertisements featuring prices in Dorchester and a lower mean advertised price in Dorchester, compared with Brookline. Residents of lower-income communities may be more sensitive to price promotions, which may partly explain the lower advertised prices and greater occurrence of displayed prices in Dorchester compared with Brookline. However, mean advertised prices may reflect differences in the advertising frequency of premium and discount brands rather than price discounting. Moreover, adjustments were not made for other economic factors that can affect price. Despite these caveats, advertised prices are likely to be seen by consumers and may play an important role in shaping purchasing attitudes and decisions.
Although we documented no advertising violations of the MSA, this study reveals a major weakness in the advertising restrictions outlined under the settlement. The MSA limits individual cigarette advertising units to 14 square feet yet sets no restriction on the total amount of cigarette advertising that can be displayed by a retailer. One retailer displayed a total of 32 branded cigarette advertisements, many placed with no space between adjacent advertisements. The combined total amount of cigarette advertising at this and many other tobacco retailers far exceeded 14 square feet. In the absence of restrictions on the total amount of cigarette advertising on retailer property, manufacturers may be able to selectively reach subgroups, such as youth and minorities, through placement of cigarette advertising with tailored characteristics in selected areas.
We present this study as an analysis of a limited geographic area, and there are limitations that prevent generalization to other communities. Because of its cross-sectional design, this study was able to capture the status of advertising only at one point in time. It is not known whether or how frequently storefront cigarette advertising within the two communities might change. Only further surveying of the same retailers at a later time can establish whether the advertising characteristics observed are stable over time. The decision to include only one zip code in Dorchester allowed comparisons of similarly sized populations but prevents generalizability to all of Dorchester or to other communities across the United States. Factors not measured in the current study may influence the content of storefront advertising, including population density (less dense areas may use larger ads to attract persons traveling by car), and children’s exposure may be influenced by availability of transportation and whether the school attended is in the same community as the child’s residence. Finally, only outdoor cigarette advertising was assessed in this study. Considerable advertising and promotions have been identified inside the premises of tobacco retailers11,15
as well, which may enhance youth cigarette advertising exposure.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts attempted to prohibit storefront advertising near schools and playgrounds in 1998 through a consumer protection regulation, but it was prevented by a legal challenge. Had such a restriction been implemented, cigarette advertising within 1000 feet of schools would not have been observed in this study (combined total of 130 branded cigarette advertisements). The recently enacted Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act28
provides the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the authority to regulate tobacco products, including a provision that bans cigarette advertising within 1000 feet of schools and playgrounds. The FDA will also require additional advertising restrictions, including the requirement that all retail cigarette advertisements consist only of black text on white background. Moreover, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act will now allow states and local communities to adopt further restrictions on cigarette advertising and promotions that were previously preempted under the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. Cities such as Boston (which includes Dorchester) and Brookline now have the capacity to “ban or restrict the time, place, and manner, but not the content
, of the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes”28
(emphasis added). This is an important step toward providing protection from targeted advertising to youth in minority and lower-income communities. However, because the present data suggest that the content of cigarette advertising, such as price, is tailored toward lower-income communities, we would also recommend that advertisement content be considered for regulatory restriction. More work is required to complete a comprehensive, evidence-based regulatory strategy for outdoor cigarette advertising that will restrict tobacco promotion aimed at youth and further denormalize the acceptance of smoking in American communities.
SO WHAT? Implications for Health Promotion Practitioners and Researchers
What is already known on this topic?
The tobacco industry has used storefront advertising to target youth and minority ethnic/racial groups. Little is known about how specific characteristics of tobacco advertisements, such as their location, position, size and content, are used to appeal to youth and minority populations.
What does this article add?
This paper describes a study of the presence and features of storefront cigarette advertising in two demographically contrasting communities. We present evidence that features of tobacco advertising are manipulated to attract youth or racial minority sub-groups, and these features are disproportionately evident in low income, minority communities.
What are the implications for health promotion practice or research?
Despite the broad protections from targeted advertising for youth that the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement provides, storefront advertising is not included in this agreement. However, recent congressional approval providing the US Food and Drug Administration with regulatory authority of tobacco products permits further restrictions on tobacco marketing and may help curtail youth exposure to this form of cigarette advertising.