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Opportunities to promote tobacco persist even where the retail promotion of tobacco products is heavily regulated. In the Australian state of Victoria, tobacco advertising at the point-of-sale (POS) has been banned since 2002 and POS display of products prohibited since 2011.1 However, tobacco product boards—listing brands, prices and price specials—are permitted up to 1.5×1.5 m in size. Tobacco retailers are required to display health warning posters and sales to minors notices and are permitted to display an optional A4-size sign stating ‘We Sell Tobacco Here’.2 While exposure to antismoking signage at the POS has been associated with quitting interest,3 other POS features that signal the availability of tobacco when these products are otherwise concealed may undermine tobacco advertising and display bans. This study aimed to explore the prevalence of such features.
A panel of stores was derived from two prior observational studies of retailers in Melbourne, Victoria,4 5 and comprised 350 stores that sold tobacco, including supermarkets (n=86), small mixed businesses (n=53; eg, milk bars or corner stores), convenience stores (n=52; including small independent grocery stores), petrol stations (n=49), newsagent and lottery outlets (n=62) and tobacconists (n=48). Ethical approval for this study was provided by the Institutional Research Review Committee of Cancer Council Victoria.
Every 6 months from November 2013 to November 2015, a team of trained fieldworkers visited each store in the panel as part of a larger tobacco retail monitoring study. A fieldworker entered each store as an ordinary customer and inconspicuously observed features of the POS, including the presence of a product board, ‘We Sell Tobacco Here’ signs, and any other tobacco-related signage. Table 1 shows the outcome of store visits in each wave and linear changes over time, examined using logistic regression analysis controlling for store type and area socioeconomic status.
About 80% of stores across the study had a product board, and this did not change over time. Tobacco-related signage was present in 94.0% of stores in November 2013 and significantly increased to 97.9% in November 2015. Table 1 shows that this increase was related to a substantial, significant increase in the proportion of stores displaying ‘We Sell Tobacco Here’ signs—more than doubling from 40.1% to 84.1%. The same pattern was seen among stores with and without product boards (data not shown). There was no change in the prevalence of ‘other’ tobacco-related signage. The proportion of stores with only ‘We Sell Tobacco Here’ signs also increased from 4.0% to 8.7%, suggesting that the overall increase in signage was contributed to by an uptake of ‘We Sell Tobacco Here’ signs in stores that previously had no tobacco-r elated signage. These stores were likely still in breach of Victorian regulations as they did not display the required signage. They had, however, opted to display non-required signage promoting tobacco purchase.
These findings show that tobacco retailers increasingly use all available means to promote tobacco. Even in the absence of tobacco displays, just the sight of tobacco shelving or cabinets can induce smoking cravings and urges to make an unplanned tobacco purchase.6 Policy makers should consider banning ‘We Sell Tobacco Here’ and similar notices when designing POS regulations.
Contributors All authors contributed to study design, manuscript writing and revisions and approved the final version of the paper. MB coordinated fieldwork and undertook data analysis.
Funding This study was supported by Quit Victoria, with funding from VicHealth, the State Government of Victoria and Cancer Council Victoria.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.