In Phoenix, 41% of public schools are within 1,000 feet – about two city blocks – of a tobacco retailer, according to a comprehensive new study mapping tobacco retailers in 30 major U.S. cities. The study was conducted by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University in St. Louis.

Other key findings for Phoenix include:

• Tobacco retailers are concentrated in low-income areas. There are nearly 11 times more tobacco retailers per square mile in the lowest-income neighborhoods than in the highest-income neighborhoods, as defined by data from the U.S. Census.

• There are 16 times more tobacco retailers than McDonald’s restaurants and 8 times more than Starbucks.

• Tobacco retailers are easy to access. 50% of city residents live within a half mile, or about a ten-minute walk, of a tobacco retailer. 

Across the 30 cities, the study found, on average, that 63% of public schools are located within 1,000 feet of a tobacco retailer, and the lowest-income neighborhoods have nearly five times more tobacco retailers than the highest-income neighborhoods. On average, 70% of residents across the 30 cities live within a half mile of a tobacco retailer.

“In city after city, this research shows just how pervasive tobacco retailers are in our neighborhoods and near our schools. Retailers give the tobacco industry a massive footprint where it spends nearly a million dollars every hour on retail advertising and discounts to appeal to youth and other price-sensitive customers,” said Lisa Henriksen, PhD, senior research scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine and lead researcher on the study. 

“This study powerfully illustrates how the tobacco industry continues to target kids and vulnerable communities in Phoenix and across the nation,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which provided support for the release of the study. “The tobacco industry is hooking a new generation of kids by aggressively marketing its products, including flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, in locations where kids are continually exposed and have easy access. Policymakers must take action to protect our kids and communities, starting with a ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products.”

In Phoenix, a broad coalition of advocates and organizations recently joined City Councilman Michael Nowakowski to call for an end to the sale of all flavored tobacco products to reduce youth tobacco use and save lives. Councilmember Nowakowski plans to sponsor a citywide ordinance that would end the sale of flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and flavored smokeless tobacco.

“This research confirms the alarms being raised across Phoenix’s working-class neighborhoods – that the vape and smoke-shop industry is aggressively congesting our communities with inappropriate products, preying directly on our children,” said Lawrence Robinson, president of Roosevelt School District Governing Board & South Phoenix community leader. 

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the research was conducted by the Advancing Science and Practice in the Retail Environment (ASPiRE) Center, a collaborative that investigates how tobacco retailer density and innovative retail tobacco interventions impact people and communities. Using a wide range of data from state and local governments and other sources, the researchers mapped retailers that sell cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products in 30 large cities across the United States, providing the most comprehensive study to date showing the ubiquity of tobacco retailers and their proximity to schools. Approximately 29 million adults and 8 million children (1 in 9 U.S. residents) live in these 30 cities.

According to the researchers, “Living in neighborhoods with a higher concentration of tobacco retailers makes youth more likely to start using tobacco and makes quitting more difficult. In addition, higher concentrations of tobacco retailers in disadvantaged neighborhoods contribute to health disparities.”

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, resulting in over 480,000 deaths and $170 billion in health care expenses each year.

While the U.S. has greatly reduced cigarette smoking, youth use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use among high school students nationwide more than doubled between 2017 and 2019 (from 11.7% to 27.5%) and over 5.3 million U.S. kids now use e-cigarettes. Research shows that 97% of current youth e-cigarette users used a flavored product in the past month, and 80% of youth who had ever used tobacco started with a flavored product. 

In Arizona, 7.1% of high school students smoke traditional cigarettes, while 16.1% use e-cigarettes. Tobacco use claims 8,300 lives in Arizona each year.