ASPiRE, Tobacco-Free Kids Campaign Reaches More Than 3 Million

Faculty; Public Health; Research

A Brown School-based center recently joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to conduct a nationwide media campaign to publicize the center’s research on tobacco retail density in 30 U.S. cities. The two-week campaign reached over 3 million broadcast viewers, radio listeners, and on-line readers in more than two dozen of the nation’s largest media markets.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Advancing Science and Practice in the Retail Environment (ASPiRE) Center is a consortium of researchers from Washington University, Stanford University and the University of North Carolina that investigate how tobacco retailer density and innovative retail tobacco interventions impact people and communities.

This effort teamed the ASPiRE Center with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), one of the nation’s leading anti-smoking advocacy groups, to focus attention on the proximity of tobacco retailers to schools as districts around the country prepared to begin classes in the fall. ASPiRE’s Dissemination & Implementation team, led by Douglas Luke, professor and director of the Center for Public Health Systems Science at the Brown School, worked with CTFK to create website resources and other materials for the media.

ASPiRE’s Lisa Henriksen, CTFK President Matthew Myers, and several members of ASPiRE’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) from 30 cities around the U.S. participated in TV and radio interviews that focused on the research led by Henriksen and her team at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Laura Brossart, who manages ASPiRE’s D&I team at the Brown School, said the campaign should give a boost to local advocates and legislators in their efforts to reduce smoking and vaping. Each CAB city now has a resource page on the ASPiRE website with fact sheets, a city-specific press release, and shareable social media graphics. The resources feature data for each city about tobacco retailers near schools and in low-income neighborhoods. The campaign resulted in a 438% increase in traffic to the website.

“Our new, evidence-based resources are now in the hands of tobacco control advocates and policymakers who can use them in their efforts to limit access to tobacco products in their communities,” Brossart said.

Myers said the research was impressive.

“This study powerfully illustrates how the tobacco industry continues to target kids and vulnerable communities with its deadly and addictive products,” he said. “The tobacco industry is hooking a new generation of kids by aggressively marketing its products, including flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, in locations where kids are continually exposed and have easy access. Policymakers must take action to protect our kids and communities, starting with a ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products.”

The Center’s goal is to build a strong base of scientific evidence for effective retail policies to reduce tobacco use, tobacco-related disparities, and the public health burden of tobacco. ASPiRE researchers work in partnership with a Community Advisory Board comprised of tobacco control program staff from 30 large U.S. cities, representatives from several tobacco control organizations and agencies, and legal experts.

Henriksen said the media tour was an important milestone in the center’s aim to produce research with impact. “The collaboration with CTFK was exciting and they amplified the research results for 30 U.S. cities in ways that can inform tobacco control policies and improve community health,” she said.

Research by her team illustrated that across the ASPiRE cities, tobacco retailers are:

  • Located near schools: On average, 63% of public schools are within 1,000 feet (about 2 city blocks) of a tobacco retailer.
  • Concentrated in lower-income areas: On average, the number of tobacco retailers per square mile is nearly 5 times more in the lowest-income neighborhoods than in the highest-income neighborhoods.
  • Easy to access: On average, 70% of city residents live within ½ mile (~10 minute walk) of a tobacco retailer. Maps illustrate “tobacco swamps,” which are areas with a glut of tobacco retailers.
  • Clustered together: On average, 54% of tobacco retailers are within 500 feet (~2 minute walk) of another tobacco retailer.
  • Ubiquitous: There are 31 times more tobacco retailers than McDonald’s restaurants and 16 times more retailers than Starbucks. In the 30 ASPiRE cities, there are 40,856 tobacco retailers.

“Living in a neighborhood that is saturated with tobacco retailers makes kids more likely to try tobacco products, and it makes it more difficult for those who are already using tobacco products to quit,” Henriksen told an interviewer from Phoenix. She added that even though the city’s schools themselves may be closed due to COVID, the proximity still mattered. “With 50% of city residents living within a 10-minute walk of a tobacco retailer, whether or not kids are at school this fall, they have easy access to these products,” she said.

Dave Lemmon, Director of Media Relations for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the media tour exceeded expectations.

“This joint effort was a tremendous success for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and we look forward to collaborating with the ASPiRE team again in the future,” he said. “In fact, there never would have been a media tour in the first place without these important findings about how ubiquitous tobacco retailers truly are in so many different communities.”