Study Finds Retail Tobacco Marketing Increases Teen Smoking, Underscores Need for FDA Authority Over Tobacco, Higher Tobacco Taxes

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

May. 7 2007

Washington, DC — A new study published today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine concludes that the more cigarette marketing teens are exposed to in retail stores, the more likely they are to smoke, and that restricting these retail marketing practices would reduce youth smoking. This is the first national study to examine how specific marketing strategies in convenience stores and other retail settings affect youth smoking. The study is significant and timely because retail marketing today makes up the vast bulk of all tobacco marketing and Congress is considering legislation that would curtail some of the industry’s most harmful marketing practices. This study shows that the most common marketing strategies currently used by the tobacco industry remain highly effective at getting children to smoke and must be curtailed.

This new research demonstrates the urgent need for Congress to enact the pending legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products, including the authority to crack down on tobacco marketing that impacts children. This study also underscores the need for states to further increase cigarette taxes and take other measures to counter the industry’s massive spending on price discounting, which the study shows is extremely effective at encouraging youth to smoke.

The researchers, using data collected from 1999 to 2003, examined the impact of several tobacco retail marketing strategies, including cigarette point-of-sale advertising, cigarette price, and other promotions, such as multi-pack discounts and gifts with purchase. These and other retail marketing practices make up more than 90 percent of the $13.1 billion the cigarette manufacturers spent on marketing in 2005, according to the latest Federal Trade Commission report on cigarette marketing released on April 26 (2005 is the most recent year covered by the report). In 2005, tobacco companies spent $182 million on point-of-sale advertising, $9.8 billion on price discounts, and $963 million on other retail promotions. They also spent $870 million on coupons and $846 million in payments to retailers and wholesalers for prominent placement of cigarette displays.

The researchers found that retail cigarette advertising increased the likelihood of youth initiating smoking; pricing strategies contribute to increases all along the smoking continuum, from initiation and experimentation to regular smoking; and cigarette promotions increased the likelihood that youth will move from experimentation to regular smoking. The researchers also found that reducing or eliminating these retail marketing practices would significantly reduce youth smoking.

The FDA legislation currently pending in Congress would immediately curtail many of the tobacco industry’s most harmful marketing practices, including those with the greatest impact on children. It would limit tobacco advertising in stores and in magazines with significant teen readership to black-and-white text only, eliminating the colorful, youth-oriented images that depict smoking as cool and glamorous. It would require stores to place tobacco products behind the counter; ban all remaining tobacco brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events; and ban free cigarette samples and free giveaways of non-tobacco items with the purchase of a tobacco product. The legislation would also ban candy-flavored cigarettes that clearly are a starter product for young new smokers.

Importantly, this legislation would for the first time in 40 years grant states the authority to regulate cigarette marketing. States and localities could impose bans or restrictions on the time, place and manner (but not content) of the advertising or promotion of cigarettes. In addition to imposing specific marketing restrictions, the legislation would also give the FDA broad authority to curtail other tobacco marketing that appeals to children and misleads consumers.

It is disappointing that the National Association of Convenience Stores has opposed the FDA legislation and its reasonable restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids. Responsible tobacco retailers across the country have no interest in marketing or selling tobacco products to children and would in no way be harmed by the FDA legislation. We urge responsible retailers to support the FDA legislation.

This study also shows once again that the tobacco companies cannot be taken seriously when they claim that they have changed and no longer market to children. The tobacco companies know very well that marketing in convenience stores and other retail venues is highly effective at reaching the kids who often congregate there and that price discounts have their greatest impact on kids, the most price-sensitive customers. A 2004 study of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders concluded that kids who visited a convenience, liquor or small grocery store at least weekly, and were exposed to intensive retail tobacco marketing, had a 50 percent greater chance of ever smoking. The tobacco companies obviously know where and how to reach kids and take every opportunity to do it.

In addition to the FDA legislation, the new study underscores the need for states to step up their efforts to reduce tobacco use. States should significantly increase cigarette taxes to counter the tobacco industry’s massive price discounts, properly fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws.

The tobacco industry’s massive marketing expenditures, especially on price discounts and other retail strategies, are a key reason why progress in reducing youth smoking has stalled recently. The CDC’s latest survey of high school smoking found that 23 percent of high school students smoked in 2005, up from 21.9 percent in 2003 and a worrisome turnaround after a 40 percent decline since 1997 (when smoking rates peaked at 36.4 percent). Our progress is at risk unless Congress finally takes action to curtail tobacco industry practices that prey on our children and state officials redouble efforts to increase tobacco taxes and implement other proven solutions to reduce tobacco use.

 

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