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Will the FDA Curtail Tobacco Signs in Poor Neighborhoods?

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Tobacco signs are more common in less affluent communities — and Latino and African-American populations are particularly affected — the Boston Globe reported August 30.

But all that could change, now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can regulate tobacco companies.

Store signs are an important part of how tobacco is marketed. Studies done in 2003 and 2004 found that 40% of tobacco advertising dollars are spent on ads in retail shops, including storefront signs.

“Tobacco advertising is still alive and well,” said Michael Siegel, M.D., of the Boston University School of Public Health. “There’s a widespread perception that somehow the tobacco advertising has gone away, that it’s been taken care of, that we don?t have to worry about this anymore. But that?s not true.”

Researchers also said that studies from the past 15 years indicate that tobacco companies spend more of their advertising dollars in poorer communities. For example, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health compared signs in two Boston neighborhoods. Tobacco signs were much more common in the poorer neighborhood, and adults there were also about three times as likely to smoke.

The FDA has not yet decided how it will regulate signs advertising tobacco, according to an agency spokesperson. In the past, the courts have supported the right of tobacco companies to advertise under the First Amendment.

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