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A new study suggests policies that ban tobacco-product displays at the point of sale may help reduce teen smoking. The study included 1,200 teens who were smokers, or considered to be likely smokers. They “shopped” in a virtual convenience store. In some of the stores, cigarette products were visible, while in others they were hidden. In some stores, tobacco ads were present. In others, they were either hidden or banned altogether.

The teens were told to buy one drink, one snack and two additional items at check-out. There were no restrictions on what they could purchase.

The researchers found 32 percent of teens who shopped in stores with hidden tobacco products were aware that they were for sale, compared with 85 percent of those who shopped in stores with visible tobacco products. Teens shopping in stores with hidden tobacco products were also much less likely to try to buy those products, HealthDay reports. Banning tobacco ads appeared to have a minimal impact on the teens’ decision about whether to buy cigarettes.

The study also found 9 percent of teens who shopped in stores with hidden tobacco displays bought cigarettes, compared with more than 24 percent of those shopping in stores that openly displayed them.

“These results provide support for policies that would ban the display of tobacco products at the point of sale,” lead researcher Annice Kim, PhD of RTI International said in a news release. “We found that enclosing tobacco product displays significantly lowers the likelihood that youth will try to purchase tobacco in the virtual store.”

Kim noted that in the United States, tobacco companies spend most of their advertising dollars promoting cigarettes in retail stores. “Open displays of tobacco products normalize smoking and stimulate unplanned purchases,” she said.

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

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