Tobacco Town

Group of evaluators looking at tobacco advertisement outside of gas station


When the Tobacco Town project started in 2013, CPHSS and partners from Brookings Institution, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Stanford Prevention Research Center used agent-based modeling to examine interplay between built and consumer environments for tobacco and patterns of purchasing and use.

The three-year project examined the best way to reduce density of tobacco retailers in U.S. cities. Using data from representative American cities and suburbs, we built an agent-based model that simulated how different types of policies could 1) reduce tobacco retailer density and 2) increase cost and difficulty of obtaining cigarettes. Results showed policies affect different contexts (urban or suburban, wealthy or low-income) in different ways.

As a continuation of the work, our team worked with New York City and then ClearWay Minnesota and the Public Health Law Center to estimate impacts of various tobacco retail policies on retailer densities, consumer costs, and cessation rates for priority populations in communities in Minnesota.

Currently this work continues as one of three research projects of the NCI-funded ASPiRE Center. Researchers from the Brookings Institution, Washington University in St. Louis, and UNC are refining the agent-based models to simulate retail tobacco policy impacts in the 30 big cities represented in the ASPiRE Community Advisory Board. The latest iterations include more realistic geography, synthetic populations based on US Census data, and policies that affect both the built environment for retail tobacco (e.g., tobacco retailer density and resident-to retailer proximity) and the availability and accessibility of specific tobacco products. The goals of ASPiRE Tobacco Town include not only simulating various local-level interventions but developing translational products for policymakers and their intermediaries to highlight the importance of context and increase the use of research evidence in policy development.

Funder: National Institutes of Health

Staff Contact: Todd Combs

Project Duration: July 2013-present

Methods or Strategies Used

Project Publications