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.

As other forms of tobacco marketing have been restricted, tobacco companies now spend more than 95 percent of their marketing budget — nearly $8.7 billion a year — to saturate convenience stores, gas stations, and other retail outlets. Tobacco companies pay stores 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.

Originally released in 2012, this 2016 update includes:

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.

With tobacco ads prohibited on television, radio and billboards and less frequent in magazines, convenience stores remain one place where consumers, including kids, are regularly exposed to tobacco advertising and promotions. The point of sale is by far the tobacco industry’s dominant marketing channel today, and that it has, not surprisingly, grown in importance since the 1998 tobacco settlement.

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

Point-of-sale marketing is very effective at reaching and influencing kids. 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. What better way to capture this market than to target youth 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, 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 2016, tobacco companies Altria and Reynolds American, in concert with the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association (NDPMA), helped to defeat a November 2016 ballot initiative to raise tobacco taxes in North Dakota. The industry also engaged in opposition efforts against tax ballot initiatives in California and Colorado.

  • The National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), with cigar and smokeless tobacco manufacturer, Swedish Match, launched a website in 2016 called “Tobacco Ordinances – Take Another Look” (TOTAL). The website provides talking points and materials for retailers to frame local tobacco prevention ordinances as anti-business, anti-free speech, and as irresponsible government intrusion.

  • Both NATO and the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) joined forces with the tobacco industry to lobby Congress to include a provision in the appropriations bill that funds the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which would limit FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars.

In short, tobacco companies spend billions in concert with convenience stores and other retailers to make tobacco attractive, accessible, and affordable – resulting in more kids starting and fewer adults quitting. It is essential for elected officials to adopt policies to reduce tobacco use and counter the influence of point-of-sale marketing, such as higher taxes on tobacco products, raising the tobacco sale age to 21, funding for tobacco prevention and restricting sales of kid friendly flavored products. Policy makers 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. If you are working on funding for tobacco prevention, tobacco taxes, Tobacco 21 or point-of-sale issues, the report can be useful in drawing attention to the problem and the solutions.

Counter Tobacco and the American Heart Association co-authored this report.

Last updated Dec. 15, 2016