Retail availability, product packaging and strategic placement of tobacco products are integral components to the tobacco industry’s marketing scheme.
According to industry documents, the tobacco industry considers even the display of the cigarette pack itself as a part of its advertising strategy, particularly in the context of “power walls.”  The Federal Trade Commission reported that in 2013, the tobacco industry spent $291 million on promotional allowances to tobacco retailers to control the strategic shelving and placement of tobacco products. Read more on the “War in the Store.” Point of sale tobacco product displays have been found to:
Several options to restrict tobacco product availability, placement and packaging are intended to close loopholes in the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. While the Act banned the sale of flavored and single cigarettes, self-service displays, and vending machines for cigarettes and smokeless products, it excluded many categories of other tobacco products (OTPs) from these restrictions. The tobacco industry has capitalized on these loopholes with the proliferation of new flavored OTPs in recent years and increased spending on advertising for OTPs as compared to cigarettes. OTPs are cheaper and more accessible in the absence of minimum pack laws, and flavored OTPs are particularly attractive to youth. Read more about the threat of cigars and cigarillos in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ report, “Not Your Grandfather’s Cigar.”
- Increase perceived availability and accessibility of tobacco products, especially among youth. Research has found that stores where youth are more likely to shop contain up to twice as much shelf space dedicated to the three brands most popular among youth.
- Increase brand recognition, especially among youth, which increases odds of smoking.
- Encourage impulse purchases of tobacco products, cue cravings, and undermine quit attempts. [5, 6, 7]
Availability, Placement, and Packaging Restrictions
Tobacco product availability, placement and packaging restrictions encompass a set of restrictions that help to control the visibility and accessibility of tobacco products at the point of sale. Many of these restrictions can be implemented as part of licensing and zoning schemes or as stand-alone laws. Options include:
- Restricting the sale of flavored OTPs. Review the following resources:
Minneapolis, MN enacted restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, other than menthol flavored, limiting them to adult-only tobacco stores. These restrictions apply to products such as cotton candy-flavored shisha, apple-flavored chewing tobacco, grape-flavored little cigars, and e-liquids that are sold in thousands of kid-friendly fruit and candy flavors. At the same time, the city of Minneapolis also set a minimum sales price for cigars of $2.60 each or $10.40 for packs of four or more. Read more
- Restricting self-service displays for all tobacco products and paraphernalia. Currently, only cigarettes and smokeless products are prohibited from self-service displays, which increase availability of tobacco products to youth. This type of provision would extend the ban to all types of tobacco products and could include e-cigarettes as well. Review Changelab Solutions’ model ordinance for more information.
- Limit the total amount of display space for tobacco products or limit displays to only one package of each tobacco product for sale.
- Limit product displays to stores with no youth access or to adult-only portions of stores.
- Story from the Field: Haverstraw, NY: In 2012, the Village of Haverstraw, NY enacted a ban on the display tobacco products, specifically at stores that are open to minors. This law would have marked the most progressive local policy on tobacco display bans to date in the United States. Unfortunately, the New York Association of Convenience Stores and 7 major tobacco companies filed a lawsuit contesting that this policy violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. In response, Haverstraw withdrew its ban to avoid a court battle that would be costly for a small town to fight. Read more.
- Implementing a minimum pack size for cigars and cigarillos (little cigars). While cigarettes must come in packs of 20 or 25, there are no regulations on pack sizes for cigars and cigarillos. This allows companies to sell the products at extremely low prices, making them extremely appealing to price sensitive shoppers like youth. Review the following resources:
Case Study: Reducing Cheap Tobacco & Youth Access: New York City
As part of their “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement” legislation,” New York City implemented a minimum pack size that requires that cheap cigars and cigarillos be sold in packages of at least four, and little cigars be sold in packages of at least 20. Read more about the policies’ impacts on public health, legal considerations, and lessons learned in Reducing Cheap Tobacco & Youth Access: New York City
, a case study in the Innovative Point-of-Sale Policies series from the Center for Public Health Systems Science at Washington University in St. Louis.
- Restricting the placement of tobacco products (display ban). Though they have had success abroad, policies affecting advertising and displays face unique legal challenges within the United States. The Tobacco Control Legal Consortium’s (TCLC’s) “Placement of Tobacco Products—Tips and Tools” suggests the following options for restricting the placement of tobacco products:
- Prohibit the display of tobacco products during times when youth are likely to be present. For example, tobacco retailers could be required to cover tobacco products during after school hours and on weekends.
- Prohibit the placement of tobacco products in view of consumers. For example, tobacco retailers could be required to keep tobacco products under the counter or behind opaque shelving.
- Other options that are more likely to pass legal challenges include:
- Limiting tobacco product displays to adult-only stores or to adult-only portions of the store [9 10]
- Limiting the size of tobacco brand displays. For example, to allow only one package of each tobacco product for sale to be displayed or cap the total amount of display space allowed in a store. [9 10]
- Requiring plain packaging for tobacco products. While commercial speech protections would likely prevent such regulations in the US, Australia became the first nation to require plain packaging on cigarettes, which was upheld in JT International SA v. Commonwealth of Australia. In early 2015, both the United Kingdom and Ireland passed similar plain packaging laws. Although it is too soon for data to reflect the impact on smoking rates, recent news highlighted that Australia's plain packaging regulations, in combination with graphic warning labels, has led many smokers to perceive that tobacco tastes worse. A continuous tracking study from April 2006- May 2013 found that smokers had stronger reactions to the health warnings and found the packs less attractive following the introduction of the plan packs. A national cohort study showed increased thoughts of quitting and quit attempts among Australian adult smokers in the first year after the packaging changes. Among youth, effects have also included social denormalization in addition to quit-related responses. For more information, review the following resources from the World Health Organization:
- Requiring child-resistant packaging for e-liquid used in e-cigarettes and similar devices. E-cigarettes have introduced a new health risk to children: the accidental ingestion of e-cigarette liquid. Since 2011, poisoning cases related to e-cigarettes have increased tenfold, with 2,724 e-cigarette-related calls to poison control centers in 2014. As part of regulation on these products, governments may consider requiring child-proof packaging to prevent poisoning incidents. Review the following resource:
The evidence for restricting tobacco product availability, placement and packaging
Policies that restrict tobacco product availability, placement and packaging can help to counteract the tobacco industry’s efforts to attract new, current and recently quit smokers through power walls, kid-friendly flavored OTPs, and the sale of single cigars and cigarillos that are cheaper and more attractive to new and youth smokers. Minimum pack size laws also have the added benefit of making OTPs easier to monitor for tax and trade enforcement.
Tobacco product display bans have been implemented in many countries, such as Iceland, Canada, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, and the United Kingdom, as part of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Evidence has shown high retailer compliance, de-normalization of tobacco use, and preliminary support for declines in tobacco use in combination with other comprehensive restrictions on tobacco promotions. [14, 15, 16, 17] In a study with a virtual store, recently quit U.S. smokers had a lower urge to smoke and were less likely to attempt to purchase cigarettes with a display ban was in place. Further, research shows that these restrictions don’t hurt business or add unnecessary burden to store clerks. [19, 20, 21] Even Ireland’s Convenience Store and Newsagent Association has stated that retailers have “nothing to fear.”
Best Practices for Getting Started
Consult legal experts before you pursue any policy. The content on this site and associated resources are no substitute for actual legal advice. Like advertising restrictions, these policies may qualify as commercial speech restrictions. Review the following resources:
Conduct store audits (such as a Walking Tobacco Audit, Operation Storefront, or STARS) and publicize results. Documenting presence of items like flavored tobacco products and single cigars in your community can be a powerful way to draw attention to the problem and garner support. You can also share images of tobacco product placement in your community or view images from other communities through Counter Tobacco’s image gallery.
Conduct a media campaign
Conduct public opinion surveys to measure awareness of and support for point of sale policies.
Engage stakeholders. Review the CDC’s Best Practices for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Programs for tips.
Review the Center for Tobacco Policy & Organizing’s resources on implementing a successful policy campaign.
Include robust enforcement and compliance measures in any proposed policy.
Story from the Field: Maryland- The Cigar Trap
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
developed an education and awareness campaign around the issues associated with the merchandising and promotion of cigars. In Maryland in 2010 14.1% of high school students under 18 reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days. 13.9% reported smoking cigars. This represents more than an 11% increase in cigar use since 2000. The Cigar Trap
highlights this shift in usage and the associated dangers. The campaign includes facts sheets to define the issue, solutions that can be pursued, and media resources associated with the campaign. Media resources can also be accessed through the CDC's Media Campaign Resource Center