Many thanks to all who participated in this year’s Point of Sale Tobacco Marketing Photo Contest! We received many powerful photos documenting the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics and promotional strategies at the point of sale in communities across the county. 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. See all entries here. These photos can also be found in our image gallery, where you can download and use them (for free!) for your tobacco control and prevention educational and advocacy needs. Below you can see the winners for each category (click on each category to scroll down, and click on each photo to enlarge):
- Grand Prize Winner
- Greatest Youth Appeal
- Stores Near Schools
- Modern Oral Nicotine Products
- Menthol Madness
- Flavor Craze
- Exterior Ads
Grand Prize Winner
Our Grand Prize Winner is also one that could win for Youth Appeal, featuring a display of disposable e-cigarettes with colorful packaging and a wide range of youth-appealing flavors (including cotton candy, bubblegum, rainbow blast, and pineapple ice) that is positioned right above an ice cream cooler. The words “starts here” are visible between the two, and unfortunately, flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, are indeed how many youth start using tobacco and nicotine products.
“Your addiction “Starts Here.” Taken April 1, 2022 in Bradenton, FL by Meredith Shuler
Greatest Youth Appeal
Many states prohibit self-service displays of tobacco products where youth or any customer can pick up a product without clerk assistance. However, that’s not the case for all tobacco products in Florida. As you can see in our first winning photo, this display of cheap, flavored little cigars and cigarillos goes all the way to the ground, positioning it right next to the similarly colorful and flavored candy display. Both are at kids’ eye level and within their reach. In addition, the little cigars and cigarillos are in a wide range of youth-appealing flavors, including “red gummy,” “black cherry,” and “watermelon,” and are as cheap as 4 for 99 cents (or less than 25 cents per cigar), an accessible price point for many youth. It’s no wonder that, according to the 2022 NYTS, they’re the second most commonly used tobacco product among youth, behind only e-cigarettes. Flavored disposable e-cigarettes, the most popular tobacco product among youth, are in this display as well and in a display above the candy. The second photo also features a display of flavored e-cigarettes on the counter right above gummy candies and other sweets.
“Need some gum to mask that cigarillos breath?” Taken April 22, 2022 in Bradenton, FL by Meredith Shuler
“We aren’t targeting youth. Check out the gummy bears on the shelf below the vapes” Taken February 22, 2022 in Brandenton, FL by Meredith Shuler
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, with signs proclaiming, “Welcome Back, UNL Students” and “Double your student discount when you bring in a friend.” Learn more about stores near schools and strategies to prohibit tobacco retailers from locating there.
“Student Discount – Bring a Friend!” Taken October 3, 2022 in Lincoln, NE
This photo takes the cake both for the industry targeting that the tobacco retailer’s sign perpetuates and for the irony of their message. The sign reads “$200 for therapy or $20 for a good cigar, you decide.” The tobacco industry has a history of targeting people with mental illness. Internal tobacco industry documents show that companies like R.J. Reynolds created whole market segments for groups who smoke for “mood enhancement” for “stress relief” “anxiety relief” or to “gain self-control,” targeting these individuals with advertisements that address moods and depressive symptoms. However, counter to the industry’s marketing claims, nicotine can actually exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression, as highlighted in Truth Initiative’s recent “Depression Stick” youth media campaign.
“Who needs therapy when you can smoke” Taken October 20, 2022 in Sarasota, FL
“Modern” Oral Nicotine Products
“Modern” oral nicotine products and advertisements for them have proliferated in the retail space over the past couple of years. 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.” While non-tobacco nicotine is now regulated by the FDA, many of these products are still undergoing premarket review and awaiting authorization or denial. Another concern with these products are the high concentrations of nicotine, which may contribute to addiction, especially for youth who are experimenting with the products. That’s the case in the picture below, featuring an countertop advertisement for nicotine pouches that contain either 9mg or 12mg of nicotine and come in flavors including wintergreen, sweet, lush, mocha, and mint. Learn more about how oral nicotine products are being marketed at the point of sale in our podcast episode on the topic.
“Fre” yourself from non-tobacco nicotine- NOT!” Taken April 8, 2022 in Bradenton, FL by Meredith Shuler
While the FDA is working on a final 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. Advertising Created & Continues to Drive the Menthol Tobacco Market: Methods Used by the Industry to Target Youth, Women, & Black Americans, a recent report from the American Heart Association and the Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, details the tobacco industry’s deceptive and targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes to Black communities, women, and youth, which has resulted in disproportionately higher rates of menthol cigarette use among these groups. The report includes both historical industry targeting tactics dating back to the 1930s (e.g. saturating Black communities with ads, discounts, and free samples for menthol cigarettes; menthol marketing campaigns directed at women; and youth oriented advertising campaigns) as well as more recent tactics, including menthol flavor capsules, additives, and greenwashing. One of our winners in this category shows the current “greenwashing” tactic (marketing that makes the product seem environmentally friendly when it is not) with a claim of “plant-based menthol.” That’s also ironic because cigarettes butts are the most littered items in the world, and the non-biodegradable filters and toxic chemicals they contain pollute soil and waterways and harm wildlife (learn more about tobacco and the environment).
“Healthy Menthol – Big Tobacco Using Old Tricks” Taken June 13, 2022 in Cheraw, SC
In our second winner for this category, it looks like there’s a decimal point out of place on the advertisement – but as this participant’s caption says, “Even though it would be pleasure if tobacco products were $89.9, that would still not be enough. Let’s eliminate tobacco products completely and put people first over profit!”
Taken October 3, 2022 in Denver, CO
While the FDA is working on a final 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 as well as flavored disposable e-cigarettes (e.g. Puff Bar), which are the most popular with youth. The advertising for e-cigarettes often relies heavily on flavors – as seen in our winning photo below featuring cotton candy, gummy bears, and peaches. While the FDA has denied marketing authorization to millions of flavored e-cigarette products and authorized only one menthol e-cigarette so far, many flavored product remain on the market. Some states and many 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.
“7000 puffs? I wouldn’t take 1 puff of this toxic substance!” Taken February 14, 2022 in Brandenton, FL by Meredith Shuler
Children and adults alike are often exposed to tobacco advertising without even having to go into a store – the exteriors of many tobacco retailers are plastered with tobacco advertising on the doors, windows, and surrounding areas. As our winning photo in this category shows, those ads are also often below 3ft (right at children’s eye level). Many of the ads on this door are for mobile coupons – another way the tobacco industry keeps tobacco products cheap, lures in new customers, and keeps current ones hooked. Ironically, on this door there is also an ad for preventing use, asking adults not to buy products for underage youth — but this sign is placed around adult knee-level rather than eye-level where they might actually be likely to read it.
“Enter at your own risk. This entire door is decorated with cigarette/vape advertisements!” Taken April 1, 2022 in Bradenton, FL by Meredith Shuler
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.