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Analysis Finds 41% Of Phoenix Public Schools Are Within 1,000 Feet Of A Tobacco Retailer

MARK BRODIE: More than 60% of schools nationwide are located within a few, within a thousand feet of a store that sells tobacco products. That is among the findings of a  new report from a trio of universities which looked at 30 American cities. The analysis shows the number of Phoenix schools in close proximity to a tobacco retailer is lower than the national average. But  other metrics are less positive. Lisa Henrickson is one of the researchers who compiled the data. She's a senior research scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine and has been studying the tobacco retailing environment for almost two decades. She joins me, and, Lisa, what did you find broadly among the biggest cities in the country?

LISA HENRICKSON: This is a study of 30 major cities in the United States. Overall, we found that 63% of public schools are within a thousand feet of a tobacco retailer. That's just about two city blocks. And that number is a little lower in Phoenix; it's 41% of public schools. In Phoenix, tobacco retailers, as in other cities, are ubiquitous. In Phoenix, there are 16 times as many tobacco retailers as McDonald's restaurants.

BRODIE: Let me ask you about the fact that that Phoenix is below the national average in terms of the percentage of public schools within 1000 feet of a tobacco retailer. Is there anything to make of that other than just coincidence?

HENRICKSON: Phoenix is not as dense a city as many of the others that we studied, like Chicago, Miami, New York City. So that's part of the reason that the number is lower, but it's not any less important. Living in a neighborhood that is saturated with tobacco retailers makes kids more likely to try tobacco products, and it makes it more difficult for those who are already using tobacco products to quit.

BRODIE: Now, one of the areas in which Phoenix is about twice the national average is the number of tobacco retailers per square mile in the lowest versus the highest income neighborhoods. That would seem to be a pretty big problem for low income families, low income students.

HENRICKSON: It is. It raises concerns about health equity. And the pattern is not accidental. It is targeting of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods by the tobacco industry, which the tobacco companies have had a long history of doing this. And again, it's, it's not just the stores. It's also the marketing that they contain. So think of stores saturated with colorful ads and price discounts for indisputably harmful and addictive products. Those messages make the products much more appealing to young people.

BRODIE: How does the health care infrastructure in some of those low income neighborhoods affect what you find in terms of kids who, who maybe have more access to some of these products?

HENRICKSON: Yeah, having more access to the products is a health risk. And the best thing we can do to limit young people's exposure is to eliminate the sale of flavored tobacco products, which are the most appealing and most commonly used.

BRODIE: Yeah, I want to ask you about that, because I'm curious, you know, when you talk about tobacco products, traditionally that has meant cigarettes mostly for, for kids. But now we've seen more and more vaping products. How have you, how have you seen that affect what kids have access to and what maybe appeals to to kids?

HENRICKSON: That's right. In Arizona, about 16% of high school students use e-cigarettes. Only about half that many smoke traditional cigarettes. Most tobacco retailers sell vaping products and they, in Phoenix, they sell them in attractive flavors — bubble gum, strawberry, mint and menthol, all of which young people prefer. Ninety-seven percent of kids who use e-cigarettes use flavored products.

BRODIE: For a while, in the not too distant past, the news with youth smoking was that the numbers were going down. And then, as you reference, with the rise of vaping products, we've seen some reversal in those trends. What are we seeing right now in terms of the percentage of kids who are trying tobacco products and those who continue to use them after their first, you know, try or two?

HENRICKSON: Right. Past month use in Arizona for e-cigarettes is, is 16%. And that number is going up, not going down. We've lost a lot of the gains that tobacco control made in terms of reducing smoking. We lost them to the epidemic rise in e-cigarettes that's been observed in the nation and in Arizona.

BRODIE: So what does that mean for health care and for health care costs in a city like Phoenix?

HENRICKSON: Health care costs are rising because of nicotine addiction. Certainly. It is a problem.

BRODIE: Now, I have to ask because, of course, a lot of students are not going to be going back to their physical school buildings right away at the beginning of the school year. But your research also found that roughly half of Phoenix residents live within a half-mile of a tobacco retailer. So does that to you indicate that even if kids are not going back to their schools, where they live, they still have access to these products?

HENRICKSON: That's exactly the right conclusion. With 50% of city residents living within a 10-minute walk of a tobacco retailer, whether or not kids are at school this fall, they have easy access to these products.

BRODIE: All right. That is Lisa Henrickson, a senior research scientist with the Stanford University School of Medicine. Lisa, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

HENRICKSON: I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.