Tob Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051239
  • Research paper

Tobacco retail outlet advertising practices and proximity to schools, parks and public housing affect Synar underage sales violations in Washington, DC

  1. David B Abrams1,2,3
  1. 1The Steven A. Schroeder National Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, Legacy, Washington, DC, USA
  2. 2Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Department of Oncology, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA
  4. 4Department of Research and Evaluation, Legacy, Washington, DC, USA
  5. 5Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
  6. 6Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas R Kirchner, The Steven A. Schroeder National Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, Legacy, 1724 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA; tkirchner{at}
  • Received 18 July 2013
  • Accepted 29 January 2014
  • Published Online First 25 February 2014


Objective To examine the cross-sectional association between illicit sales of tobacco to minors, Washington DC tobacco outlet advertising practices, retail store type, the demographic make-up of the area surrounding each outlet, and the proximity of each outlet to high schools, recreational parks and public housing.

Participants Seven hundred and fifty tobacco outlets in the DC area, n=347 of which were randomly selected for inspection by the Synar Inspection Program in 2009–2010.

Main outcome measures The presence of tobacco advertisements on the interior and exterior of each outlet, and illicit tobacco sales to Synar Inspection Program youth volunteers.

Results The presence of tobacco advertisements on the exterior of gas stations was much greater than on other retail store types (OR=6.68; 95% CI 4.05 to 11.01), as was the absence of any advertisements at bars or restaurants that sold tobacco (OR=0.33; 95% CI 0.22 to 0.52). Exterior tobacco advertisements were also more likely in predominantly African–American areas of the city (OR=3.11; 95% CI 2.28 to 4.25), and particularly likely on storefronts located closer to parks (OR=1.87; 95% CI 1.06 to 3.28). Illicit sales to minors were more common at gas stations (OR=3.01; 95% CI 1.5 to 6.3), outlets that displayed exterior tobacco advertisements closer to parks (OR=3.36; 95% CI 1.38 to 8.21), and outlets located closer to high schools in majority African–American block groups (OR=1.29; 95% CI 1.07 to 1.58).

Conclusions Findings demonstrate that while illicit tobacco sales to minors are occurring at acceptably low rates by Synar standards, illicit sales vary considerably by retail store type, advertising approach and proximity to high schools, parks and African–American residential areas. Future work may help inform regulatory efforts to reduce youth access at the neighbourhood, city, state and national levels.

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