Tobacco Industry Watch

Deadly Alliance

How Big Tobacco and Convenience Stores Partner to Market Tobacco Products and Fight Life-Saving Policies

Report Released March 5, 2012

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Tobacco companies have enlisted convenience stores as their most important partners in marketing tobacco products and fighting policies that reduce tobacco use, thereby enticing kids to use tobacco and harming the nation’s health, according to a report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Counter Tobacco and the American Heart Association.

As other forms of tobacco marketing have been restricted, tobacco companies now spend more than 90 percent of their marketing budget — nearly $10 billion a year — to saturate convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets.  Tobacco companies pay stores billions to ensure that cigarettes and other tobacco products are advertised heavily, displayed prominently and priced cheaply to appeal to both kids and current tobacco users.

Convenience stores have also become partners with — and front groups for — the tobacco industry in fighting higher tobacco taxes and other public policies that reduce tobacco use.

Link to Store Report Slideshow

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Key findings of the report

Convenience stores and other retail outlets have become by far the dominant channel for marketing tobacco products in the United States.

Since Since the November 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies that restricted some forms of tobacco marketing, tobacco companies have significantly increased both the total amount and the percentage of their marketing budgets spent at the point of sale.

In the first 10 years after the settlement (1999 to 2008), tobacco manufacturers spent more than $110 billion — 92 percent of their total marketing expenditures — to advertise and promote cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in the retail environment, according to the latest tobacco marketing reports issued by the Federal Trade Commission

Tobacco marketing in stores entices kids to smoke and use other tobacco products, discourages current tobacco users from quitting, targets minority communities and portrays deadly tobacco products as appealing and acceptable.

Point-of-sale marketing is very effective at reaching kids and influencing them to smoke.

With tobacco ads prohibited on television, radio and billboards and less frequent in magazines, convenience stores remain one place where kids are regularly exposed to tobacco advertising and promotions. More than two-thirds of teenagers visit a convenience store at least once a week.

Studies have found that cigarette marketing is more prevalent in stores where adolescents shop frequently; tobacco advertisements and product displays are often placed at kids’ eye level or near candy; and point-of-sale marketing – especially price discounting – increases youth smoking.

Tobacco companies, inhibited by their own negative reputations, have enlisted convenience stores as front groups to oppose tobacco tax increases and other policies to reduce tobacco use. 

Tobacco companies aggressively communicate with retailers, supply them with tools and information to lobby policy makers and provide financial support. For example:

  • In 2011, the New Hampshire Grocers Association led a successful fight to reduce that state's cigarette tax by 10 cents, using misleading information produced by tobacco industry allies.

  • In Georgia in 2010, a grocery store placed anti-tobacco tax messages on cigarette receipts — with a clear statement that the message was “Paid for by Altria Client Services on behalf of Philip Morris USA.”

  • In Washington state, a Philip Morris spokesman was exposed as the ghost writer for pamphlets opposing a 2001 ballot initiative to increase the cigarette tax that ostensibly were written by the Korean Grocers Association and the Washington Association of Neighborhood Stores.

Elected officials should adopt policies – especially higher tobacco taxes – that reduce tobacco use and counter the influence of point-of-sale marketing. Higher tobacco taxes are a win-win-win for states — a health win that reduces smoking, especially among kids; a financial win that products significant new revenue; and a policy win that poll show is strongly supported by voters across the country.