Tobacco control policies focused on the retail environment have the potential to reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related health disparities through increasing direct and indirect costs. Recently, national and subnational governments have begun to restrict the sale of menthol products and reduce tobacco retailer density.
We developed an agent-based model to project the impact of menthol cigarette sales restrictions and retailer density reduction policies for six types of communities and three priority populations. During each simulated day, agents smoke cigarettes, travel in the community and make purchase decisions—whether, where and which product type to purchase—based on a combination of their own properties and the current retail environment.
Of the policies tested, restricting all cigarette sales or menthol cigarette sales to tobacco specialty shops may have the largest effect on the total (direct and indirect) costs of purchasing cigarettes. Coupling one of these policies with one that establishes a minimum distance between tobacco retailers may enhance the impact. Combining these policies could also make the costs of acquiring cigarettes more equal across communities and populations.
Our simulations revealed the importance of context, for example, lower income communities in urban areas begin with higher retailer density and may need stronger policies to show impact, as well as the need to focus on differential effects for priority populations, for example, combinations of policies may equalise the average distance travelled to purchase. Adapting and combining policies could enhance the sustainability of policy effects and reduce tobacco use.