In July 2012, New Zealand administered the removal of point-of-sale (POS) cigarette displays with increased enforcement and penalties for selling tobacco to minors with additional restrictions on tobacco advertisements. This comes as a blow to large-scale tobacco manufacturers as the tobacco industry relies heavily on POS advertisements and marketing.

A team of researchers studied the socio-health impact of the countermeasures on smoking behavior on 10th grade students with results indicating an increase in stricter tobacco advertisement policies can cut down tobacco use.

Researchers evaluated data of more than 25,000 14 to15-year old students from 2007 and 2011-2014. Measures included prevalence of smoking-related behaviors and strength of association between visiting tobacco-retailing stores and smoking behaviors. The study itself was published in The Tobacco Control Journal of The British Medical Journal (BMJ) on July 4, 2016.

The results showed individuals who experimented with smoking i.e. had smoked before but less than current monthly usage, decreased from 23% in 2011 to 17% in 2014. Current prevalent monthly smoking statistics saw a 2% drop, falling from 9% to 7% while the percentage of people smoking for the first time decreased from 13% to 11%. Furthermore, among smokers, the amount of attempts by individuals trying to purchase cigarettes in the past 30 days decreased from 30% in 2012 to 26% in 2013. There was also found to be a positive association between frequency of visiting tobacco-retailing stores and smoking-related behaviors, which was found to weaken after implementation of the anti-smoking laws.

The results showed a remarkably positive outcome due to the ban on displays of cigarettes and tobacco substances from POS shops which could be due to the fact that as human beings, we tend to remember and perceive more information through the visual medium than through other sensory mediums.

Lately there has been abundant policy formulation and encouragement to implement stricter control over tobacco sales. In early 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked governments to implement ratings on films that showed tobacco usage to discourage children from taking up smoking.

In 2014, 44%of all Hollywood films and 36% of films rated to be suitable for children featured tobacco smoking. A WHO report strongly criticized Germany, Poland, Italy, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Mexico for showing the use of tobacco in films claimed to be appropriate for children. Moreover, an analysis revealed that films from Argentina and Iceland featured smoking in nine out of ten films deemed suitable for kids.

A US study, published in Tobacco Control after an increase in underage smoking, has found keeping tobacco products out of sight in convenience stores significantly reduces teenage susceptibility to smoking cigarettes in future.

Another study funded by the National Cancer Institute and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products explored the positive impact of limiting the visual appeal of cigarettes. Researchers randomly allocated 241 adolescent participants aged 11-17 years to three different layouts in a life-sized (1500 square feet) replica of a convenience store stocked with more than 650 products. The first display was in a typical fashion, displaying the tobacco products behind the cashier’s counter, eloquently named the tobacco power wall. The second display featured tobacco products on a side wall, located away from the cash register while the third display had tobacco products hidden from view by an opaque wall situated behind the cashier.

The teenagers were given $10 to spend and were told that the researchers would be monitoring their shopping habits. Examiners assessed the effect of tobacco product displays on the risk of future adolescent tobacco use by using questionnaires before and after visiting the “store”.

Researchers measured the risk of adolescent smoking using a proper scale to assess the likelihood of the teenagers’ intentions to smoke in the future and their confidence to resist smoking if a friend offered them cigarettes. Previous research has shown that this scale is a strong indicator for assessing the probability of teens starting smoking in the future.

Results showed that hiding tobacco behind an opaque wall significantly reduced the risk of taking up smoking in future, compared with keeping cigarettes behind the cash counter. Additionally, the percentage of teenagers at risk of adopting smoking in future was 11% lower when the tobacco power wall was hidden compared to when tobacco products were placed behind the cash counter. However, keeping tobacco products on the side wall had no effect on future susceptibility to smoking.

“These findings suggest that limiting the visibility of tobacco displays in retail stores may reduce the number of young people who try cigarettes,” said lead author William Shadel, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND corporation, a non-profit think tank research organization based in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia.

Researchers concluded, “Hiding the tobacco power wall at retail point of sale locations is a strong regulatory option for reducing the impact of the retail environment on cigarette smoking risk in adolescents.”