TOBACCO products are more likely to be found on sale in Scotland’s poorest areas rather than more affluent neighbourhoods, a new report has shown.

Researchers at three Scottish universities have discovered that young people in the poorest Scottish neighbourhoods are increasingly likely to encounter tobacco products in their area.

The team conducted a survey of more than 5000 adolescents in four areas to gauge their exposure to tobacco products. They found that young people in the poorest areas were the most likely to encounter tobacco products in nearby shops or on their journey to school.

The study published in the journal Tobacco Control was funded by the National Institute for Health Research. Researchers from Edinburgh, Stirling and St Andrews Universities found that a law introduced by the Scottish Government in 2013 has reduced exposure to cigarettes and related products among adolescents, but inequalities in availability and visibility have increased.

The ban reduced the visibility of tobacco products in shops across the country, however the density of retailers in Scotland’s most deprived neighbourhoods has risen in recent years.

A statement from the research team said: “Teenagers in deprived neighbourhoods are now even more likely to encounter tobacco products than their peers in more affluent parts of the country compared with before the ban.”

The findings follow previous research showing that Scotland’s most deprived areas contain the highest density of tobacco retailers, and that people are more likely to smoke where local availability is high. The study examined the effect of the ban on in-store displays of tobacco products in Scotland – called point-of-sale legislation.This came into force in large supermarkets in April 2013 and in smaller shops two years later. Scientists studied retailer density by analysing data on all tobacco retailers between 2013 and 2017.

The research team also found that the density of tobacco retailers fell initially in all areas following the ban, however since 2015 it has increased steadily in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods.

The Scottish Government has set a target of reducing smoking rates in the adult population to below 5% by 2034. The current rate of 21% has not fallen since 2013.

Professor Jamie Pearce of Edinburgh’s School of GeoScience said: “The introduction of the point-of-sale legislation in Scotland has been very successful in reducing the visibility of tobacco products across the country. However, at the same time we are seeing greater socio-economic inequalities in visibility and availability. Tobacco products remain available on almost every street corner across Scotland. Addressing the local supply of tobacco should be the next priority for policymakers.”