We asked you to submit photos documenting the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics and promotional strategies at the point of sale (POS) in your communities. We received over 50 awesome photos from across the country and even overseas. Many thanks to everyone who participated! 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 at the POS and be used to encourage local and state governments to continue working to minimize their influence. Below you can see the winners for each category. These photos can also be found in our image gallery for your tobacco control advocacy needs.
Grand Prize Winner
Our Grand Prize winner this year is a photo of the moment, serving as evidence that pernicious tobacco marketing goes on, even during a pandemic. On this storefront, in addition to the sign asking customers to wear a mask and practice social distancing, you’ll find advertisements for a range of tobacco products, including cheap cigarettes, little cigars and cigarillos, 99-cent e-cigarette devices, and oral nicotine pouches. There are signs advertising mobile coupons for both smokeless tobacco and cigarettes, as well as ads for flavored tobacco products right at kids’ eye level. And, this is all at a store that is located near the local high school.
“Vanderburgh County Store Near High School” Taken May 12, 2021 in Evansville, IN
- Exterior Ads
- Emerging Products
- Menthol Madness
- Flavor Craze
- Greatest Youth Appeal
- Most Ironic
- Cheap & Steep
- Stores Near Schools
View all entries here and in our media gallery of store images and maps.
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 our winning photo for this category — free-standing signs in front of each space in the parking lot — 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.
Oral nicotine products like nicotine pouches, lozenges, 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.” In our winning photos below, we see large ads for Velo nicotine pouches outside a store and an array of oral nicotine products displayed right next to Nicotine Replacement Therapy products beneath a “smoking cessation” sign in a pharmacy. Note: These products are recreational, not cessation aids.
“V is for Vulture”
Taken by Nancy Cripe on March 12, 2021 in Milford, IN
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 prevalently advertised and more steeply discounted in African-American and low-income communities. In our winning photo, there are ads for menthol cigarettes placed on the door at kids’ eye level, and we know that menthol cigarettes are also linked to youth initiation.
“Not Kool!” Taken by Adrienne Thomas on March 12, 2020 in Elkhart, IN
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 flavored e-liquid and flavored disposable e-cigarettes like PuffBar remain on the market, appealing to youth. 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.
Greatest Youth Appeal
Tobacco product placement in stores is usually no accident, with tobacco companies paying for prime shelf space. In our winning photos below, e-cigarettes are placed right next to candy where they are sure to be seen by youth.
Most Ironic – Winner
“Within 1,000 feet of a middle school and they “Welcome all ages”. The inside and outside of the store is plastered with tobacco marketing.“
Taken by Heidi Blake on October 11, 2020 in Warsaw, IN
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 85% of their total marketing dollars on price discounts at the point of sale. This is evident in our winning photos below. In addition to “special price” “50c off” and promotions for mobile coupons, the store on the right is also offering 1/2 price cigarettes! At 99 cents, the cost of a Vuse Alto e-cigarette device is offered a price point accessible to many youth.
Stores Near Schools – Winner
Research has shown that there is an increased smoking prevalence among students at schools located in neighborhoods that have the highest tobacco retailer density compared to schools located in neighborhoods without any tobacco retailers. Our winning photo below shows another way youth are exposed to tobacco advertisements just on their way to school.
“Light-pole tobacco billboards on the school bus route”
Tobacco retailers often cluster in lower-income neighborhoods, which makes it easier for consumers to purchase the harmful products and be exposed to the industry’s persuasive marketing. A national study found that in lower income neighborhoods, more stores had exterior ads for tobacco products, sold flavored little cigars and cigarillos, and had tobacco ads targeted to youth. Uneven distribution of tobacco retailers and disproportionate exposure to tobacco advertising contributes to disparities in smoking rates. Tobacco prices are also often cheaper in lower income neighborhoods, and retailers that accept SNAP benefits (EBT or “food stamps”) are more likely to have interior and exterior advertisements.
“The downtown, corner, general/convenience store in Monroeville, IN”
Taken by Nancy Cripe on April 26, 2019 in Monroeville, IN
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.