Socioeconomic Inequalities in Children's Exposure to Tobacco Retailing

Researchers examine how often children in disadvantaged areas were exposed to tobacco retailing compared with those in more advantaged areas.


Research shows pre-adolescence is a critical period where the path to starting smoking begins. A single smoking experience at age 11 is associated with an increased risk of smoking in the future. The availability of tobacco products can normalise smoking in a local population and make it harder to give up smoking. Past studies have shown disadvantaged areas tend to have more tobacco retail outlets and that the prevalence of smoking and deaths from smoking are higher in deprived localities.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh wanted to find out how often children in disadvantaged areas were exposed to tobacco retailing compared with those in more advantaged areas. They mapped the location of all shops selling tobacco products across Scotland, and used GPS-trackers to follow a group of 692 10- and 11-year-olds for eight consecutive days. They were able to identify how often, and for how long, the children, who were all part of the Growing Up in Scotland study, went within 10 metres of a shop selling tobacco.

The research team found children from the most deprived neighbourhoods encountered a shop selling tobacco 149 times a week on average, compared with just 23 times a week for children from the least deprived areas. An average 10- to 11-year-old child was exposed to tobacco retailing for 2.7 minutes per week day and 4.7 minutes every weekend day, totalling 22.7 minutes per week. However, children from the poorest areas experienced five times more exposure than children from the most affluent areas on weekdays, and six times more exposure at weekends. Extended exposure among those from poor areas which continued into school hours, may suggest the schools these children attend have tobacco retailers close by.

Most exposure came from convenience stores (35 per cent) and newsagents selling tobacco (14.5 per cent), with peaks just before and after school. Exposure rates generally correlated with the availability of these outlets (37.5 per cent and 15.3 per cent). However, there was higher than expected exposure from supermarkets, particularly on weekends given their availability. Children in deprived areas got more exposure from supermarkets - 13.2 per cent on weekdays and 21.7 per cent on weekends - than the availability of supermarkets in those areas (4.8 per cent) would predict.

Exposure from off-licences, hotels and "other retail" like discount stores was also greater than expected. However, children from deprived areas got less exposure from newsagents or pubs than expected while children from the least deprived areas got more exposure to these outlets than expected.

The average child had 6.2 tobacco retailers within 800m of their home but children in the poorest areas had significantly more - 11.8 compared with 4.5 for those in the most affluent areas.


The Scottish government aims to make Scotland tobacco-free by 2034. Policies on the timing of tobacco sales, types of retailers allowed to sell cigarettes and location of shops could help reduce the gap in smoking rates between the most and least disadvantaged. This could include banning tobacco sales in shops regularly visited by children or at times of day when children are most likely to visit. However, such moves are likely to be unpopular with retailers. The study authors suggest another option would be a combination of building public consensus and legislation to deter retailers from selling tobacco.


CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £170 /year


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £136 /year