Teenagers are more likely to start smoking if they live in areas with large numbers of shops that sell tobacco products.
Adolescents with the most tobacco outlets in their neighbourhood are almost 50 per cent more likely to smoke than those with no outlets nearby, University researchers say.
The study also found that teenagers from areas with the highest density of retailers are 53 per cent more likely to try smoking at least once.
Researchers argue anti-smoking strategies among teenagers should include reducing the overall density of tobacco retailers.
They say limiting teenagers’ access to tobacco products is vital, as long-term smoking usually begins in adolescence.
Tobacco control policies often prioritise the reduction of outlets in neighbourhoods near schools.
However, researchers found no evidence that adolescents attending schools in areas with high numbers of retailers are more likely to smoke.
We were surprised by how strong an influence the retail environment was on teenagers' smoking behaviour. The results are good news because they offer a new tool with which to try and reduce smoking rates.
The study of Scottish teenagers - the first of its kind in the UK - examined the relationship between adolescent smoking habits and tobacco outlet density in teenagers’ home and school neighbourhoods.
Teenagers living in all neighbourhoods - not just those with levels of high poverty- were found to be affected.
Edinburgh researchers worked with the University of Glasgow to create a map of tobacco retailers for every postcode in Scotland.
They examined the links between the number of outlets and teenage smoking habits using responses from a survey of more than 20,000 pupils aged between 13 and 15.
The Scottish Government has signalled its intent for a ‘tobacco-free’ Scotland by 2034. Our research shows that as part of this plan we need to consider regulating the number of retailers selling tobacco in our neighbourhoods.
The study is published in the journal Tobacco Control.
The work was supported by the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, and coordinated by the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health.