New York State Tobacco Control Program Releases Findings of Tobacco Point of Purchase Advertising

     BINGHAMTON, NY - Have tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, changed their tune? Since the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998 with 46 states, Big Tobacco has agreed to pay more than $240 billion to compensate the states for the enormous public health problem posed by tobacco use. The tobacco industry has acknowledged the harm caused by smoking cigarettes--a departure from years earlier when tobacco company officials swore before Congress that they did not believe the nicotine in cigarettes was addictive. Nowadays, the companies tout their sense of responsibility as much as their profitability. Moreover, it seems as though Big Tobacco would like to present itself as an ally to children.

It's time to look at how the industry has not changed for the better, but perhaps for the worse. The tobacco companies have substantially increased their marketing expenditures since the MSA was signed and have even increased cigarette advertising that directly reaches youth. Before the MSA went into effect, the tobacco companies' marketing expenditures totaled more than $6.7 billion. In 2002, tobacco companies spent $12.47 billion on cigarette advertising and promotions, an 85% increase since 1998.

The MSA has certainly changed the tobacco companies' public relations strategies, but has done very little to reduce the companies' ability to aggressively promote their products. While the MSA did ban tobacco billboards and transit advertising, it did very little to restrict tobacco advertising inside retail outlets. Studies have shown that point-of-purchase advertising (i.e. interior and exterior advertising, displays, and branded functional items) directly influences what products and brands kids buy and use. Point-of-purchase advertising and promotions target and attract shoppers right at the places where they can immediately buy the specific products or brands.

To monitor tobacco advertising and promotions in the retail environment, the New York State Tobacco Control Program and the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), designed a monitoring system, the Retail Advertising of Tobacco Study, to document and raise awareness of the tobacco industry's marketing strategies in the retail environment. The study captures information on cigarette advertising on exterior and interior of retail outlets; cigarette prices and promotions for popular brands; compliance with state youth access laws ("age-of-sale" signs; self-service displays); and compliance with MSA restrictions on advertising (such as ads with cartoons). By the fall of 2004, RTI trained auditors conducted a random observational survey of 2,266 licensed tobacco vendors in New York State. The sample included convenience stores (both that sold and didn't sell gasoline), pharmacies, small and large grocery stores, mass merchandisers, tobacco specialty shops, and other outlets.

Our Central New York region accounted for nearly 21% (470) of surveyed retailers. This region registered with the highest percentage of retail outlets with exterior advertising at 56.2%, with a statewide average of 53%. Nearly all (94%) tobacco retailers displayed tobacco advertising on the store interior, with little variability across the state or across types of stores. Furthermore, branded functional items, such as Marlboro clocks, Camel open/closed signs, and Newport coin trays, were rare. Only 1.1% of Central New York retailers displayed these items, compared to 3% statewide.

The average price for a pack of cigarettes, among the top three sellers (Marlboro, Newport, and Doral), in Central New York was $4.67. There was little variability in price by store type. Price discounts were very common, available in 86% of Central New York retailers. The state average was 81%. In observing state law, nearly 73% of Central New York tobacco retailers were in compliance with state "Age of Purchase" signage laws, greater than 60% statewide. Nearly all (99%) tobacco retailers were compliant with the state product placement/self-service law, requiring all tobacco products be stored behind the counter and accessible only to employees or in a locked container/cabinet. In addition, MSA violations, such as cartoon ads or ads exceeding 14 square feet were rare, with less than 1% of retailers in the Central New York region not in compliance.

So what does our community do with this information? First, it's important to recognize that point-of-purchase tobacco advertising and promotions have an especially powerful negative impact on youth. Three out of four teenagers shop in a convenience store at least once a week, a retailer recognized for its high volume of tobacco advertisements. Kids are more than twice as likely to recall tobacco advertising as adults. Advertising is a bigger influence on youth smoking than peer pressure to smoke. Moreover, youth who observe point-of-purchase advertising view tobacco as easier to obtain. When residents visit a convenience or grocery store, they should take a look to see where tobacco advertisements and promotions are posted. They might see a chewing tobacco ad or tobacco products situated near a candy or toy display. They may also see cigarette ads placed three feet from the floor, right at the eye level of children.

The community must address the very real problem of Big Tobacco trying to buy our communities and hook another generation of smokers in the process. Exposure to tobacco advertising and marketing influences youth access to, experimentation with, and purchase of tobacco products. Each day, more than 4,000 kids try smoking for the first time, and another 2,000 kids become regular daily smokers. More than 80% of these youth prefer Marlboro, Camel, and Newport - three of the most heavily advertised brands. Retail advertising of tobacco also discourages efforts to quit and maintains tobacco use as socially normative.

Let's stop tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death by encouraging local retailers, and elected officials, and other community leaders to protect our residents from tobacco industry influences by reducing or eliminating tobacco advertising and promotions. If you would like more information, please contact Tobacco Free Broome and Tioga at 607.778.3068 or 607.687.6807.