The role of travel distance and price promotions in tobacco product purchase quantity

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Abstract

Introduction

Rural Americans are particularly vulnerable to tobacco price reducing promotions are known to be directed to and used by vulnerable populations. Tobacco purchasing decisions, such as unit quantity purchased, may vary by rurality, by price promotion use, and possibly by the interaction between the two. Purchase decisions are likely to affect tobacco use behavior. Therefore, explanation of variation in tobacco purchase quantity by factors associated with rural vulnerability and factors that fall under the regulatory scope of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) of 2009 could be of value to regulatory proposals intended to equitably benefit public health.

Methods

Our sample included 54 combustible tobacco users (298 purchase events) and 27 smokeless tobacco users (112 purchase events), who were asked to report all tobacco purchases on a smartphone application. We used an ecological momentary assessment methodology to collect data about tobacco users’ purchasing patterns, including products, quantity purchased, and use of price promotions. A parent cohort study provided relevant data for home-outlet distance calculation and covariates. Our analysis examined associations between our outcome—purchase quantity per purchase event—and distance from participant's home to the nearest outlet, whether a price reducing promotion was used, and the interaction of these two factors.

Results

Combustible users showed an increased cigarette pack purchase quantity if they lived further from an outlet and used a price promotion (i.e., an interaction effect; RR = 1.70, 95% CI [1.11, 2.62]). Smokeless users purchased more units of snuff when they used price promotions (RR = 1.81, 95% CI [1.02, 3.20]).

Conclusions

Regulatory action that imposes restrictions on the availability or use of price promotions could alter the purchasing behavior of rural Americans in such a way that makes it easier to reduce tobacco use or quit. Such action would also restrict flexibility in the price of tobacco products, which is known as a powerful tobacco control lever.

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