Deadly Alliance | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Tobacco companies enlist 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.

As other forms of tobacco marketing have been restricted, tobacco companies now spend 97% of their marketing budget — $8.4 billion a year — to saturate convenience stores, gas stations, and other retail outlets with incentives and reminders to buy their addictive products. Tobacco companies pay stores to ensure that tobacco products are advertised heavily, displayed prominently, and priced cheaply to appeal to both kids and current tobacco users.

Convenience stores have become partners with — and front groups for — the tobacco industry in fighting restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, higher tobacco taxes, and other public policies proven to reduce tobacco use.

Originally released in 2012, this 2023 update from the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Center for Black Health & Equity, Counter Tools and Truth Initiative includes:

  • The latest data from the Federal Trade Commission reports on marketing expenditures by the top cigarette, smokeless, and e-cigarette companies, which continue to show high proportions of spending at the point-of-sale
  • Updated evidence of point-of-sale marketing to youth and communities of color
  • Examples of the widespread availability of kid-friendly flavored tobacco products at the point-of-sale
  • New examples of the tobacco and convenience store industries working together to oppose effective tobacco control policies
  • A description of the corrective statements – court-ordered signs posted at the point of sale by the tobacco companies – resulting from the 2006 landmark ruling that tobacco companies had lied to the public for decades
  • New research on the impact of tobacco control policies on convenience stores

Key findings of the report

Convenience stores and other tobacco retail outlets are by far the dominant channel for tobacco product marketing in the United States. With tobacco advertisements prohibited on television, radio and billboards and less frequent in magazines, convenience stores remain the one place where consumers, including kids, are regularly exposed to tobacco advertising and promotions. Retail outlets, also known as the “point of sale,” continue to be the tobacco industry’s dominant marketing channel by far.

Point-of-sale marketing is very effective at reaching kids and influencing them to use tobacco. Convenience stores are where kids and adolescents go to buy candy, sodas and afterschool snacks. In fact, nearly half of adolescents visit a convenience store at least once a week, and Black youth are twice as likely as their peers to visit a convenience store every week. What better way to capture this young market than to target where they shop? The evidence is clear that point-of-sale marketing and price promotions influence youth initiation, experimentation, and progression to regular smoking.

Tobacco companies continue to bombard communities of color with point-of-sale marketing, especially for menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, leading to disproportionate and deadly health impacts among these populations. The higher density of tobacco outlets in Black neighborhoods means that menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars continue to be heavily advertised, widely available, priced cheaper and more appealing, particularly to youth in those communities.

Tobacco companies, inhibited by their own negative reputations, have enlisted convenience stores as front groups to oppose evidence-based policies to reduce tobacco use. Tobacco companies aggressively communicate with retailers, supply them with tools and information to lobby policymakers, and provide them with financial support. Just a few examples:

  • In 2020, along with a representative for Reynolds American, Inc., a local consultant for NATO spent over $20 million to challenge the California law to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, thereby delaying the implementation of the law by nearly two years. Convenience stores and gas stations subsequently posted signs to encourage customers to vote no on the referendum (Prop 31). In November 2022, California voters overwhelmingly defeated the industry’s referendum, with 63% voting to uphold the flavor law.
  • From 2020 to 2022, proposals to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products appeared in many states and localities.  Tobacco company-sponsored signage encouraging customers to voice opposition for the proposals appeared in tobacco retail outlets throughout the country.
  • In 2017, Altria and R.J. Reynolds spent several hundred thousand dollars to defeat a proposed tax increase in Montana. They coached tobacco retailers, including vape store owners, to testify before legislative committees, and littered tobacco retailers with signage to contact legislators: “Altria spent $31,000 on advertising and communications in March, according to the disclosure reports. Posters and handbills appeared in convenience stores, gas stations and vape shops — urging tobacco buyers to reach to their legislators and complain about the tax increase.”

In short, tobacco companies have spent billions in concert with convenience stores and other retailers to make tobacco appealing, accessible, and affordable – resulting in more kids starting and fewer adults quitting. It is essential for elected officials to adopt evidence-based policies to reduce tobacco use and counter the influence of point-of-sale marketing, such as prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, higher taxes on tobacco products, and funding for tobacco prevention and cessation. Policymakers need to decide whose side they are on: Our kids OR Big Tobacco and their allies. 

This report can be used at the state and local level to draw attention to the tobacco problem in general, but particularly to the role that convenience stores and other retailers play in it and the way that tobacco companies use them to market their products and oppose policy change.


Last updated October 12, 2023