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Study: 77% Of Cleveland Schools Within Two Blocks Of Tobacco Retailers

A majority of Cleveland’s public school buildings are within two blocks of tobacco retailers, according to a new study from Stanford University.

The study looked at the number and location of tobacco retailers across 30 U.S. cities to evaluate proximity to school buildings. It found about 77 percent of Cleveland schools were within 1,000 feet of tobacco retailers, above the national average of 63 percent.

Children in Cleveland are exposed to tobacco products on a daily basis, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which provided support for the study’s release.

“Every time a kid walks into a store to get a snack on his way to school, or on her way home from school, or in the interim,” Myers said, “they’re being exposed to large levels of, not just cigarette packages and e-cigarette packages, but marketing as well.”

Tobacco retailers are far more prevalent near schools than either McDonald’s or Starbucks storefronts, Myers said. About 84 percent of Cleveland residents live within half a mile of a retailer, he said, which is above the national average of 70 percent.

“The data’s particularly disturbing because there’s substantial scientific evidence that already exists that demonstrates the more you expose a young person, particularly in the retail outlet, to tobacco products and tobacco marketing, the greater likelihood that they’ll start smoking,” Myers said.

Roughly 9 percent of high school students in Ohio smoke, Myers said, but students often see smoking as the social norm because of how frequently they are exposed to tobacco products. E-cigarettes and vaping devices have contributed to the issue, he said, and have seen a significant rise in popularity among youths.

The prevalence of tobacco retailers within Cleveland creates a health risk, Myers said, particularly for students and young adults.

“Parents don’t realize this. They don’t even take notice of it,” Myers said. “Very often, parents don’t walk into the same stores, they don’t notice the level of advertising.”

Generally, tobacco retailers tend to be more concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods, Myers said, and spread out somewhat in suburban areas. Low-income neighborhoods have nearly five times more tobacco retailers than the highest-income neighborhoods, according to the study.

“The ratio in Cleveland isn’t quite as bad,” Myers said, “but there are more tobacco retailers in low-income neighborhoods.”

That has an impact on racial health inequities, he said.

“They are disproportionately in neighborhoods with African Americans, Latinos and other very specific populations,” Myers said.

The higher prevalence of tobacco products in those neighborhoods could also increase the risk of catching or dying from COVID-19, Myers said, given the virus’ impact on respiratory functions.

Eliminating the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, cigars and menthol cigarettes would decrease the rate of smoking among students, Myers said. City officials should also look into legislation to prevent tobacco retailers from marketing and selling products so close to schools, he said.

“It’s not a coincidence that we see so many tobacco retailers located so close to schools,” Myers said. “It’s critically important that we not allow tobacco marketers to make the conscious decision to place their products near schools.”

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