A new study alleges that marketing of tobacco products at convenience stores, gas stations and small groceries is a major contributor to teen smoking.
The study conducted by Lisa Henriksen, PhD, senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, says that students who visited these stores on a regular basis were at least twice as likely to try smoking as those who visited infrequently.
"The tobacco industry argues the purpose of advertising is to encourage smokers to switch brands, but this shows that advertising encourages teenagers to pick up a deadly habit," said Henriksen, who has studied tobacco marketing for more than a decade.
Teen years are the most likely time for smokers to start, but if they don't, their likelihood of ever becoming addicted is very small, Henriksen said.
To measure exposure to ads, the researchers multiplied the frequency of visits by the number of advertising 'impressions' in stores near the schools - cigarette-branded ads, product displays and functional objects, like clocks, trash cans and register mats.
"I was surprised by the sheer number of cigarette brand impressions in signs and displays in convenience stores near schools. The exposure is unavoidable. It's impossible to miss," Henriksen said.
"One particularly nefarious aspect of advertising at convenience stores is it really normalizes the product. What do you buy there? Cigarettes, but also soup, laundry detergent, soda, cat food - normal, common things.
"So advertising there really gives the impression that smoking is normal," said Ammerman, a clinical professor of adolescent medicine at Stanford.
The study is to be published in the August issue of Pediatrics.