Tobacco companies spend a massive amount of money marketing their products in stores. This includes payments to tobacco retailers to put their products in the most visible locations in the stores. As a result, all consumers, including young people under the age of 18, are exposed to a substantial amount of tobacco marketing. While there are several factors that contribute to adolescent smoking, tobacco advertising and promotion at retail stores where tobacco products are sold (also referred to as the “point-of-sale”) is undoubtedly one of the most significant.
Those concerned with youth tobacco use can advocate for local ordinances that prohibit the display of tobacco products. In addition, reducing the number of retailers that sell tobacco products can also help to reduce tobacco use. These two policy interventions are discussed in more detail below. In addition, the Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy has produced report on these two subjects. To download the Center’s report on tobacco product display bans, click here. For the report on tobacco retail licensing, click here.
Publications on this and other topics may be found here.
To learn about New York State’s efforts to educate the public about the impact of tobacco marketing and promotion in retail stores, click here.
Contractors of the New York State Tobacco Control Program may access the point of sale toolkit here. (Login required)
Prohibiting Tobacco Product Displays in Retail Environments
Tobacco companies use point-of-sale promotions and advertisements to market their products, and one of the most prevalent ways that tobacco companies market at these retail locations is by using large retail displays, often called “power walls.” These power walls–typically located behind the cash registers–are highly engineered by tobacco companies to maximize visual intrusiveness and instigate impulse purchases. They function as a subtle kind of advertising, conveying the message that cigarettes are popular and desirable. This message is conveyed to youth over and over, every time they enter a store that sells tobacco. The Surgeon General reports that “adolescents consistently overestimate the number of young people and adults who smoke. Those with the highest overestimates are more likely to become smokers than those with more accurate perceptions.”
There has been a push in recent years to study the extent that this retail advertising affects youth smoking behavior. In 2009, a large cross-sectional study surveying 14- and 15-year-olds found significant correlations between exposure to point-of-sale displays and susceptibility to smoking initiation, smoking experimentation, and current smoking after controlling for a broad range of known smoking determinants. “The association between exposure to point of sale tobacco displays and susceptibility to smoking uptake . . . is comparable to the association between [susceptibility to smoking uptake] and parental smoking.” J. Paynter et al., Point of Sale Tobacco Displays and Smoking Across 14-15 Year Olds in New Zealand: A Cross Sectional Study, 18 Tobacco Control 268, 272 (2009). This is consistent with findings of experimental studies which show that “[t]he presence of cigarette displays at the point-of-sale, even in the absence of cigarette advertising, has adverse effects on students’ perceptions about ease of access to cigarettes and brand recall, both factors that increase the risk of taking up smoking.” Melanie Wakefield et al., An Experimental Study of Effects on Schoolchildren of Exposure to Point-of-Sale Cigarette Advertising and Pack Displays, 21 Health Educ. Res. 338, 346 (2006).
A number of countries have responded to the tobacco industry’s use of power walls by prohibiting the display of tobacco products in retail location. Such laws have been implemented in Canada, Ireland, Iceland, Thailand, Norway, and parts of Australia. While it is too early to accurately gauge the effect of the tobacco display bans in some of these countries, the countries which have had these laws in place for the longest time—Iceland and Canada—have seen steady reductions in their youth smoking prevalence since implementation. 28% of Iceland’s 10th grade students reported smoking a cigarette in the past 30 days in 1999, two years before the tobacco product display ban was enacted, and in 2007 only 16% of the 10th grade students reported the same, according to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs. Canada has seen similar reductions in its youth smoking rate. The weight of these international experiences, coupled with the scholarly research and experimental studies, demonstrates that eliminating the display of tobacco products at non-adult-only retail locations is an effective strategy to combat underage smoking and protect our children from tobacco-related disease and death.
Local Licensing to Reduce Tobacco Retailer Density
With over 400,000 smoking related deaths in the United States each year, states have a legitimate interest in decreasing the availability of tobacco products and prohibiting their sale to minors in an effort to protect public health. One way to limit the availability of tobacco is to reduce tobacco retail density. Research suggests that the density of tobacco retail outlets in a neighborhood may have an impact on the prevalence of smoking. The absence of tobacco retailers in areas children frequent will help prevent young people from picking up on “environmental cues” to start smoking that might come from an abundance of tobacco retail outlets that offer access to tobacco.
Retailer licensing requirements can be used to address tobacco retailer density, to prohibit tobacco sales in some types of businesses, and to prevent sales in specified areas. For example, a community could reduce density by limiting the overall number of tobacco retail licenses that it will distribute in a given year. Licensing systems also provide an incentive to tobacco retailers to comply with existing tobacco control laws, because violations of the law may lead to licenses suspension or revocation. Also, tobacco retail licensing may be an economically sustainable method of regulation because licensing fees may be used to fund the implementation and enforcement of the licensing system.
Other strategies for reducing tobacco retail density include prohibiting pharmacies and stores that contain pharmacies from selling tobacco products, and prohibiting the sale of tobacco products within a specified number of feet from the perimeter of schools and educational facilities. San Francisco and Boston are two cities that have prohibited tobacco sales in pharmacies. Pharmacies are retail locations that offer products and services to help consumers lead healthier lives. Because tobacco is inherently deadly, to sell such a product in a place where consumers go for healthcare related needs sends a dangerously misleading message.
References and Resources:
Lisa Henriksen et al., Is Adolescent Smoking Related to the Density and Proximity of Tobacco Outlets and Retail Cigarette Advertising Near Schools?, 47 Prevenative Med. 210, 211-212 (2008).
Andrew Hyland et al., Tobacco Outlet Density and Demographics in Erie County NY, 93 Am. J. of Pub. Health 1075, 1075 (2003).
William J. McCarthy et al., Density of Tobacco Retailers Near Schools: Effects on Tobacco use Among Students, 99 Am. J. of Pub. Health 2006, 2011-2012 (2009).
Scott T. Leatherdale & Jocelyn M. Strath, Tobacco Retailer Density Surrounding Schools and Cigarette Access Behaviors Among Underage Smoking Students, 33 Annals of Behav. Med. 105,106 (2007).
Ian McLaughlin, Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, License to Kill?: Tobacco Retailer Licensing as an Effective Enforcement Tool (2010).
Scott P. Novak et al., Retail Tobacco Outlet Density and Youth Cigarette Smoking: A Propensity-Modeling Approach, 96 Am. J. Pub. Health 670, 674 (2006).
N. Andrew Peterson, John B. Lowe, & Robert J. Reid, Tobacco Outlet Density, Cigarette Smoking Prevalence, and Demographics at the County Level of Analysis, 40 Substance Use & Misuse 1627, 1630 (2005).
Sandy J. Slater et al., The Impact of Retail Cigarette Marketing Practices on Youth Smoking Uptake, 161 Arch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med. 440, 440 (2007).