We asked you to submit photos documenting the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics and promotional strategies at the point of sale in your communities. Many thanks to everyone who participated! We received dozens of powerful photos from across the country. The entries show the evolving tobacco product landscape and the relentless efforts of the tobacco industry to recruit new users and keep current ones hooked with cheap prices, steep discounts, targeted marketing, and high visibility in the retail environment. We hope these photos can help illustrate the tobacco industry’s tactics in the retail environment and can be helpful in showing the importance of policies and work at the state and local level that minimizes tobacco’s presence and influence in our communities. Below you can see the winners for each category (click on each photo to enlarge). See all entries here. These photos can also be found in our image gallery for your tobacco control advocacy needs.
Grand Prize Winner
There’s so much going on in this year’s Grand Prize winning photo. There’s a price promotion – offering a discount for buying multiple packs, encouraging people to buy more. It includes an ad for menthol cigarettes – which should no longer be on the market due to the harm that they cause and due to the health disparities that the tobacco industry has created by targeting their marketing of these deadly cigarettes that are easier to start and harder to quit to African Americans and other marginalized groups. And there’s a classic example of the tobacco industry trying to spin their marketing to make their products seem less harmful, advertising Winston cigarettes as “Just Tobacco & Water.” If you look more closely, the advertisement reads “Our tobacco ingredient list is just tobacco & water.” They make no mention of the non-tobacco additives in their products. Tobacco companies have long added ingredients like sugar and menthol (yes, some amount even in “non-menthol” cigarettes) that make the smoke easier to inhale, ingredients like ammonia that increase how quickly the nicotine gets to the brain, and other chemicals like bronchilators that open up the lungs. Even without any of these additives, there are harmful and carcinogenic chemicals present in the tobacco itself. Learn more about the chemicals in every cigarette and how tobacco companies have engineered them for addiction. While cigarette companies like Natural American Spirit have long positioned themselves as “natural” and benefited from a perception of reduced harm (even though they are just as dangerous as other cigarettes), other companies and brands are now also trying to position themselves as reduced harm as the tobacco industry tries to improve their public image. Don’t fall for it.
- Exterior Ads
- Modern Oral Nicotine
- Menthol Madness
- Flavor Craze
- Greatest Youth Appeal
- Most Ironic
- Cheap & Steep
- Stores Near Schools
The tobacco industry spends countless dollars on marketing and promotions at the point of sale. By plastering advertisements outside retail stores – on windows, building walls, fences, lightpoles, or even– as in the case with one of our winning photos for this category — on functional items like ice chests outside of stores, tobacco companies catch the eyes of adults and youth alike. Exposure to these advertisements have been shown to enhance brand recognition and brand loyalty, increase tobacco product cravings and unplanned purchases of tobacco products, and reduce the number of successful quit attempts. Additionally, these exposure to advertisements like these has been shown to increase initiation and continuation of tobacco use, especially among youth. And they don’t even have to go inside to be exposed.
“Modern” Oral Nicotine Products
As shown already with one of our exterior advertising category winners, oral nicotine products and advertisements for them have proliferated in the retail space. Oral nicotine products like nicotine pouches, lozenges, gums, and sticks are a fast growing part of the market, with products available in a variety of flavors and in packaging that often advertises that it is “tobacco-free.” One of the way tobacco companies are marketing these products is through pop-up retail spaces at events and with free or very cheap samples. Our winning photo below highlights one of these pop-up vendors at an event in Florida. Learn more about how these products are being marketed at the point of sale in our latest podcast episode.
“Zyn and Reggae Rise Up Florida”
Taken by Julie Lavoie on October 21, 2021 in St. Petersburg, FL
While the FDA has finally announced their intention to issue a product standard banning menthol in cigarettes, this policy could take years to implement. In the meantime, these deadly products that are easier to start and harder to quit are still on the market. Research shows they are more heavily advertised and more steeply discounted in African American and low-income communities. And despite the tobacco industry’s attempts to to say that they are working towards a “smokefree world,” their actions clearly paint a different picture as they continue to aggressively market and promote their most deadly combustible products. In our winning photo, there are cigarettes with menthol flavor capsules, variations of which the tobacco industry has used in some places to try to circumvent flavor bans, and these are also discounted with a special price when you buy two packs. Learn more about menthol.
“Nicotine addiction with a touch of flavor” Taken on September 10, 2021 in Hungry Horse, MT
While the FDA has also announced their intention to issue a product standard prohibiting flavors in cigars, as with the rule on menthol cigarettes, this could take years to implement. The FDA has also prohibited the sale of cartridge or “pod” based e-cigarettes in flavors other than menthol and tobacco, but the ban exempts flavored e-liquid and flavored disposable e-cigarettes like PuffBar. Leaving menthol e-cigarettes on the market also leaves an appealing option for youth, and sales data have shown that youth will use any non-tobacco flavor that is sold. While the FDA has issued marketing denial orders to many flavored e-cigarettes through their premarket review process, they have yet to announce decisions for the products that comprise the largest market share, including Juul, NJOY, and blu. While they have authorized the sale and marketing of Vuse Solo, they have yet to announce a decision on Vuse Alto, which is more popular with youth and is shown in the display in our winning photo below. No current federal policies restrict the sale of flavored oral nicotine products, which you can see also come in a variety of flavors. Some states and localities have taken their own action to implement more comprehensive bans on the sale of flavored tobacco products, but most places around the country remain unprotected with these products still lining store shelves.
Taken on at WaWa convenience store on November 11th in Blakeslee, PA
Greatest Youth Appeal
Tobacco product placement in stores is usually no accident, with tobacco companies paying for prime shelf space. In our winning photo below, cheap little cigarillos are placed in a old ring pop candy container sitting right on the counter where they can be accessed by kids without clerk assistance. Learn more about how kids are targeted at the point of sale.“Youth Appeal” Taken on October 22, 2021 in Bradenton, FL
Despite some marketing claims to the contrary, there’s no evidence that modern oral nicotine products are effective for cessation. They are designed for recreational use and are not approved by the FDA as smoking cessation aids. However, some stores don’t seem to recognize this, with even pharmacies placing them right alongside cessation products – and in the case of of winning photo below, confusingly right underneath a “smoking cessation” banner.
Cheap & Steep
According to the Surgeon General, raising the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective strategies for reducing initiation, decreasing consumption, and increasing cessation. The tobacco industry knows this, so they spend over 87% of their total marketing dollars on price discounts at the point of sale. Our winning photo below was also a contender for “greatest youth appeal” with the placement of tobacco products right beside candy and Takis meat snacks – and how appropriate, since we know cheap prices are also intended to appeal to youth and other price-sensitive groups. Here you can see several vape products being offered for 99 cents, a price point accessible to many youth. Learn about pricing policies that can counteract these steep discounts.
“You Can Grab a Vape and a Snack After School” Taken by Nicole Morgan on October 1, 2021 in San Clemente, CA
Stores Near Schools
Research has shown that there is an increased smoking prevalence among students at schools located in neighborhoods that have the highest tobacco retailer density. Our winning photo below shows how college aged youth are marketed to at smoke and vape shops, which are often located near college campuses. Learn more about stores near schools and strategies to prohibit tobacco retailers from locating there.
“Double Discount” taken September 10, 2021 in Lincoln, NE
While iQOS sales may be put on hold in the US by a patent dispute, it’s important to monitor and document how these type of new heated tobacco products are being marketed and sold. Our winning photo for this category features a colorful digital display advertising the products in the company’s flagship store in Atlanta. Learn more about heated tobacco products at the point of sale.
“Digital display of a rainbow of IQOS caps in the first store to open in the United States” Taken by Victoria Churchill on October 15, 2019 in Atlanta Georgia
Why Does CounterTobacco.Org Host an Annual Photo Contest?
The Surgeon General has concluded that “advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies have been shown to cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults.”  The tobacco industry spends the majority of their marketing budget at the point of sale promoting its deadly products. CounterTobacco.org is dedicated to providing tools and resources to counteract retail tobacco product sales and marketing. The photo contest and image gallery expose the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics in hopes of educating communities, and especially youth, about the dangers of tobacco retail marketing. Education and exposure of the industries’ tactics are critical to building awareness and serve as a first step in the policy change process. These photos offer tobacco control advocates a powerful tool to show what is happening at the point of sale.
With the tobacco industry wielding its influence and dollars at the point of sale, policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels are critical. Learn more about counteracting retail tobacco products sale and marketing.