Teenagers would be far less likely to light up if cigarettes were stripped from shops near schools.
That's the conclusion reached in new research investigating links between tobacco outlet density and tobacco addiction presented at the Public Health Association Conference in Dunedin today.
Otago University researchers mapped known tobacco retail outlets locations around schools and married it with student smoking data from the 2012 ASH Year 10 survey.
They found a clear link between high density retail outlets and the likelihood a non-smoking student will become a smoker in the future.
Dr Louise Marsh, from the Cancer Society's social and behavioural research unit, said this is probably because highly exposed students received increased perceptions of tobacco's acceptability and its normalisation in the school neighbourhood.
"This shows that tobacco retailers' greatest influence may be on young people not yet addicted, but willing to give it a try when they have the opportunity," she said.
The research also found that teen smokers were 1.5 times more likely to purchase tobacco if the density of outlets within 1km of their school was high compared to schools that had no outlets around their school.
Dr Marsh said she was alarmed at the ease with which youth reported being able to buy cigarettes despite being aged under 18.
The researchers say their findings add power to widespread community calls for a tobacco ban within 500m of any school.
"The Government seems to be lagging behind both smokers and non-smokers who support increased regulation of the tobacco retail environment to achieve our national Smokefree 2025 goal," she said.