The Roundup -

Big Tobacco – Targeting Our Youth


When you walk into a grocery store or convenience store, what do you see? Rows of groceries. Coolers with soft drinks and beer. Counters and cash registers. And, in a lot of places, tobacco products on a large wall display. Stores aren’t just where we buy things. The entire time we’re there, we’re being marketed to. There are ads almost everyplace we look. The message we get is to buy more. Try something new. Get a better deal.

Once you open your eyes, tobacco advertising is everywhere you look inside the store. It’s on signs and shelves, on the front window and inside, on counter mats and change cups. This isn’t just for decoration. The tobacco industry is paying for and supplying this advertising. It’s called point-of-sale marketing and it’s very deliberate about getting people to use tobacco. The point of sale is now the key place where the tobacco industry does its marketing. Under federal law, the industry can’t advertise on TV and radio. There are restrictions on other types of advertising, too. But point-of-sale marketing is wide open.

A “Power Wall” is where tobacco products are displayed all together in a store so you can’t miss them. You can see all the brand names and slogans and special deals. In fact, the point of sale is now where the tobacco industry spends most of its marketing dollars. Each year, it spends $9.6 billion on marketing. And 95 percent of that is spent at the point of sale. This spending equals 26 million dollars every day, or more than 1 million dollars every hour.

So, who is the industry after with all this money? There are three key targets.

They want existing tobacco users, of course. They want people to stick with the habit.

They also want to make sure sometimes users, or people who have quit using, are tempted to use again. And, more than anything, they want to create new smokers. So they market to kids.

The industry knows that “eye level is buy level.” So it places tobacco products and advertising where kids will see them. That includes down low at the front counter and placed near candy and other items where kids are likely to look. The placement of ads and products isn’t random. The industry pays retailers big money to place these things where they’ll be seen.

Flavors and colors are also meant to attract kids’ attention. A lot of products look like candy and taste like it, too. Flavored cigarettes are now illegal, but the industry got around it by making small cigarillos. And e-juice for e-cigarettes is like Baskin-Robbins: there are a zillion flavors. It comes in all sorts of different varieties: strawberry milkshake, banana split, bubble gum, popcorn, s’mores, chocolate ice cream and more.

So, is all this marketing worthwhile? Yes. Research shows that each day 2,800 kids try smoking for the first time. And 700 of these children become regular smokers.

And this initiation is largely due to tobacco marketing efforts at the point of sale.

The use of electronic nicotine delivery systems is becoming increasingly more prevalent among youth every year. In 2014, 2.5 million middle and high school students were current users. Since these devices are not regulated by the FDA, they are not required to be kept behind the counter like traditional cigarettes.

Price is another way the industry targets young people, who typically don’t have very much spending money, and people who have low incomes.

Point-of-sale schemes include coupons and free gifts to customers and multi-pack discounts, such as buy two packs, get one free deals.

Place is also important. Research shows kids are more likely to smoke if they live within walking distance of a tobacco retailer. And many tobacco retailers are located near schools, on a child’s walk home. Studies show more 70 percent of kids shop in convenience stores at least once a week. So they are in these stores and seeing this marketing.

Studies show point-of-sale marketing creates new tobacco users and makes it harder for people to quit. Marketing in retail locations makes tobacco seem as normal and everyday as bread and milk. Products are placed where they catch the eye and the interest of children.

Research also shows point-of-sale marketing promotes impulse buying by youth and adults. Tobacco products are right there, being advertised and are often on sale at a discount.

Current and former users are cued to buy and use tobacco products every time they go into a store.

It’s not harmless advertising. The tobacco industry is imposing tobacco addiction and its health problems and costs on our communities. The industry is targeting our children and hurting their health. Contact the Richland County Health Department’s Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program if you would like more information about Point of Sale marketing or would like to have a presentation provided for a youth group. Call Jacklyn at 406.433.2207. Or if you are a current tobacco user and ready to call it quits call the Montana Tobacco Quit Line for free counseling and quit products at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go on line to


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