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Living close to a tobacco retail outlet may increase a person’s urge to smoke, a new study suggests. The study tracked the location of participants and of nearby retail tobacco stores using smartphone GPS technology, reports.

Participants used their smartphone to answer questions about their urge to smoke throughout the day. The researchers matched their answers with where they were at that particular moment, and how close they were to stores that sold cigarettes. The study followed participants before they quit until one week after their quit day.

The study suggested that it wasn’t the number of nearby locations selling cigarettes that increased the urge to smoke, but how close the nearest tobacco retail outlet was to the participant’s home. When people responded from home, those living closer to stores that sold cigarettes reported greater urges to smoke than those living farther from cigarette retailers.

Living close to a store that sells cigarettes “might cue a greater urge to smoke within the person attempting to quit, maybe because of product advertising, a learned association between the retail outlet and purchasing cigarettes or simply the greater availability and access to cigarettes that a close retail outlet provides,” said lead researcher Lorraine Reitzel of the University of Houston.

Reitzel noted in a university news release, “From a policy perspective, this suggests that if we are going to help people quit smoking, especially those in lower income areas, which tend to have a higher prevalence of tobacco stores, 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. If people can’t access cigarettes within three to five minutes, the urge to smoke usually passes.”

The study is published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

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