Study finds accessibility affects smoking habits
In what is a unique take on research, College of Education associate professor of health Lorraine Reitzel has taken to using smartphones and GPS to see how having tobacco outlets nearby affects smokers.
“We previously published a study in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health on the effects of tobacco outlet density and proximity on smoking cessation. In that study, we looked at where people lived and whether the density of outlets around them and their residential proximity to the closest outlet was related to their ability to quit smoking,” Reitzel said. “We found that smokers who lived closer to a tobacco retail outlet were less likely to successfully quit smoking than were those who lived farther from an outlet.”
Reitzel decided to use GPS to go beyond the residential environment and see how outlets in the daily lives of smokers can affect their smoking habits.
“GPS allows us to better understand the full picture of what smokers are exposed to throughout the context of their everyday lives,” Reitzel said. “While increasing our understanding about how the neighborhood environments affect smoking and other health outcomes is important, we have to also recognize that people do not spend their entire day in their neighborhood.”
According to a news release by the University, the participants carried a smartphone used to collect data about their real-time experiences. The study examined data from before they quit smoking and continued through one week after they quit.
“Our results suggested that close residential proximity to a tobacco retail outlet was associated with stronger real-time smoking urges (and) cravings during the smoking quit attempt, even after accounting for the effects of socio-demographic and smoking-related variables,” Reitzel said. “So although we were able to monitor exposure to outlets outside of the neighborhood in this study, it turned out that the relation between outlets and real-time cravings was only significant when people were at home.”
Reitzel suggested that systematically restricting sales may hinder smoking.
“We need to think about disallowing the sale of tobacco products in close proximity to residential areas to make it more difficult to get tobacco when the urge to smoke strikes,” Reitzel said in the news release.
Some smokers feel that there is no relationship between the two, though.
“We don’t move bars away from alcoholics,” said liberal arts sophomore Beau McGlasson. “If people want to quit, let them quit. That is a personal decision. Our public policy (and) laws shouldn’t be designed to insulate addicts.”
Sophomore Priscilla Cuellar questioned the issue that might be raised with limiting the locations in which they were sold. “I don’t think people would like that decision being made for them. If people knowingly live in areas near tobacco outlets, I don’t think they’d appreciate the outlets being relocated,” Cuellar said.
Since the study, Reitzel did similar research about how real-time proximity to a homeless shelter affected those smokers.
“I cannot tell you what we found because it has not yet been published, but you will be able to see it in the American Journal of Health and Behavior in 2014. I plan to start a study using GPS within the next year that focuses on how smoking rates might relate to susceptibility to experiencing increased cravings in response to tobacco retail outlet exposure and how that might ultimately affect smoking cessation. Stay tuned.”