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Walking Long Distances To Buy Cigarettes Can Push People To Quit Smoking: Study

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A new study conducted in Finland suggests that people who have to walk an additional one-third of a mile to get to a tobacco shop are more likely to quit smoking than those who have easy access to cigarettes from a nearby store.

With cigarette smoking continuing to be a source of health risk for people around the world, policy makers have begun looking into the presence of retail outlets in residential neighborhoods as one of the driving forces for the habit.

University of Turku researcher Anna Pulakka and her colleagues examined how the distance between a tobacco store and a smoker's home can affect his or her smoking behavior. They examined data collected from two studies, with one involving a population of 15,218 smokers and former smokers and another involving 5,511 individuals.

The researchers discovered that with every 500-meter (1,640-foot) increase in the distance smokers had to walk from their home to a nearby tobacco store, there was a 20 to 60 percent increase in the individuals' likelihood to quit the habit.

Individually, each smoker who had to move for the additional one-third of a mile to reach the tobacco store showed a 57 percent higher likelihood to stop smoking. The researchers even factored in the person's marriage and health status, as well as his or her financial situation, which could affect their chances of experiencing smoking relapse.

About 7 percent of participants who were former smokers at the start of the experiment went on to have a relapse in their smoking habits by the time the second study began. The researchers, however, pointed out that the distance to a tobacco store did not affect the participants' chances of experiencing a relapse.

Dr. Mika Kivimaki, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) and a senior author of the study, said that most smokers find it difficult to quit the habit because of the addictive substances included in cigarette products. However, these individuals could be given an easier choice to stop smoking if they are made to walk longer distances in order to get to a tobacco store.

Kivimaki pointed out that having smokers move farther from a retail outlet, or removing a nearby tobacco store, increases their chances of quitting smoking. This association is something that policymakers could look into to help curb the ongoing smoking problem.

"Our findings are consistent with a more general principle, 'Make the healthier choice the easier choice,'" Kivimaki said.

The researchers noted that their study also includes limitations, such as the generalizability of its findings. This is because all of the data they examined were collected from Finland, where the government is known to enforce antismoking policies for its citizens.

The first and second studies are featured in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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