Banning tobacco sales near schools and playgrounds across Scotland would cut the number of premises able to sell these products by more than 70%, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh teamed up to examine ways of reducing the provision of cigarettes and similar products in Scotland.
They created virtual maps of the country’s 9,030 registered tobacco retailers and examined how 12 different policies would affect their numbers.
These included restricting the type of shops allowed to sell tobacco, limiting areas where it can be sold or capping retailer numbers.
Stopping tobacco sales within 300 metres of child spaces – including schools, playgrounds and playing fields – would lead to a 70.7% cut in the number of licensed outlets selling tobacco, researchers found.
They said this could aid efforts to prevent young people taking up smoking.
The researchers also examined how each approach would affect existing inequalities in tobacco availability, as previous studies have shown this is disproportionately higher in more deprived areas of Scotland than wealthier areas.
Banning sales near child spaces could reduce these inequalities, they said, as could stopping sales in small local shops or restricting sales to supermarkets.
A simulation of limiting sales to supermarkets led to the largest reduction in licensed outlets at 94.6%, followed by confining tobacco sales to off-licences at 94.1% or chemists at 86.6%.
But restricting sales to either off-licences or pharmacies could increase inequalities in availability, the researchers found.
Banning sales from pubs, restaurants and private clubs led to the smallest reduction in outlet numbers at 23.9%, with the second smallest capping numbers at a national average at 32.3%
University of Edinburgh Professor Niamh Shortt, principal investigator on the project, said: “We need to identify ways to reduce smoking rates, particularly in young people, the most recent data shows us that smoking rates in young people have levelled off and are no longer falling.
“One way to address this is to reduce the number of retailers permitted to sell tobacco.
“We do not need to sell known cancer-causing products alongside everyday products like bread and milk.”
Lead author Dr Fiona Caryl, of the University of Glasgow, said: “Measures to reduce tobacco availability should form part of the Scottish Government’s efforts to create a tobacco-free generation by 2034.
“However, it is important to understand which policies would be most effective while ensuring social inequalities aren’t being exacerbated.”
The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, was funded by Cancer Research UK.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the modelling study and will consider its recommendations carefully.
“Tobacco availability is a significant driver for smoking rates being five times higher in our least well-off communities.
“That is driving a health inequalities gap amongst our most vulnerable communities and this study will help inform our understanding of the measures to limit the availability of tobacco retail outlets as a means to reduce smoking and related health inequalities.
“Smoking rates in school-age children have fallen to an all-time low and Scotland has seen the largest decline in the proportion of smokers across the UK.
“However, we are not complacent and will consider future measures in line with the commitments of our 2018 tobacco control action plan to achieve our aim of creating a tobacco-free generation by 2034.”