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Study: Low-Income Neighborhoods, Kids Still Targets of Big Tobacco

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According to a new study funded by the National Cancer Institute, Minneapolis has 32 times more tobacco retailers than McDonald's eateries, and 14 times more than Starbucks stores. (Adobe Stock)
According to a new study funded by the National Cancer Institute, Minneapolis has 32 times more tobacco retailers than McDonald's eateries, and 14 times more than Starbucks stores. (Adobe Stock)
August 13, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Many tobacco retailers are located near public schools and in low-income neighborhoods, according to a new study. It maps out the industry's presence in 30 U.S. cities, including Minneapolis.

The study found in Minneapolis, 52% of public schools are within 1,000 feet of a tobacco retailer.

Researchers at several universities collaborated to find about seven times more of these businesses per square mile in the lowest-income neighborhoods compared to the highest-income areas.

Community advocate Gene Nichols said this has been going on for decades, and more education in these areas can reduce demand.

"I think what we're doing today in the community will pay dividends down the road if we continue it," Nichols said. "If we do a strong, better job at finding people to go out into the community, giving them the facts."

Nichols has worked to expose the marketing of menthol products in African-American communities.

The study showed the industry aggressively sells its products in vulnerable areas and will work around laws aimed at curbing such efforts.

Opponents of restricting tobacco sales said it could have unintended consequences, like creating an unregulated underground market.

Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota have enacted a variety of tobacco restrictions in recent years.

Minneapolis has focused on limiting where menthol tobacco products can be sold. But more tobacco shops popped up after the ordinance was enacted, because retailers adjusted to zoning requirements.

Laura Smith, senior public affairs manager for the group ClearWay Minnesota, said it illustrates policymakers need to do more work.

"We urge them to continue having these strong, local licensing and zoning laws, but also making sure that we can take all flavored products out of the marketplace, at the local level and at the state level," Smith said.

Five Minnesota cities now prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products. A similar plan in the Legislature saw some movement earlier this year, and supporters hope it will be revisited.

But these efforts have been targeted with lawsuits by the tobacco industry, which sees the ordinances as an overreaction to the increase in vaping among young people.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN