2023 Point of Sale Tobacco Marketing Photo Contest Winners!

Cigarettes, Disparities, Displays/Display Ban, E-Cigarettes, Flavors (including Menthol), Licensing, Little cigars/Cigarillos, Non-Tax Price Increases, Photo Contest, Price Promotions, Product Availability, Product Placement, Stores Near Schools, Vape Shops

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Point of Sale Tobacco Marketing Photo Contest! We received over 50 powerful photos documenting the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics and promotional strategies at the point of sale in communities across the county (and even the globe!). 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

Taken November 7, 2023 in Grand Island, NE by Michelle Halpine 

This year’s Grand Prize winner really captures the tobacco retail environment today – from the court-ordered tobacco corrective statement about the addictiveness of nicotine above the sprawling powerwall display of tobacco products to the many price discounts advertised and the range of products for sale (cigarettes, smokeless, cigarillos, e-cigarettes, and modern oral nicotine products). It shows how tobacco companies are using convenience stores to lure in new customers and keep current ones hooked – by paying them to keep tobacco cheap and visible. We know that price discounts are the single largest marketing expenditure for tobacco companies, and that’s evident here. Learn more about how tobacco companies spend over 97% of their marketing dollars in the retail environment and what that buys them here: 

Corrective Statements

tobacco display behind a counter with a court-ordered corrective statement about the death toll of smoking

“Low price enticements alongside corrective statements – isn’t it ironic?”

Taken October 15, 2023 in Livermore, CA by Conor Lam

The placement of this corrective statement is too perfect – hanging right between a “low price cigarettes” sign and a large display of those deadly products, it tells the harsh reality that “More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.” While these signs are clearly still dwarfed by the rest of tobacco industry’s marketing materials at the point of sale, they can serve as an important opportunity to engage retailers, elected officials, and the public in conversations about ways to limit the tobacco industry’s influence going forward. Learn more about the corrective statements here and in our podcast episode.

Exterior Ads

“On the Bench, Off the Wall, Still in the Game!” Taken October 28, 2022 in Columbia City, IN by Nancy Cripe

tobacco ads on the corner outside a retailer

“Small-town, Tobacco Flash Mob! On the corner where all the buses pass heading to and from the elementary school” Taken February 21, 2023 in North Manchester, IN by Nancy Cripe

Our winners in this category show the extent to which tobacco advertisements extend out into public view outside of retailers. Kids and adults alike get exposed to harmful marketing without ever having to set foot inside a store where tobacco is sold, and these advertisements can also cue cravings and prompt impulse purchases even among people who are trying to quit. Communities can limit the presence of tobacco advertising by limiting the number of tobacco retailers or by restricting all types of advertising through “content neutral” sign ordinances. Learn more about restricting tobacco advertising at the point of sale.

“Modern” Oral Nicotine Products

Advertisement for Velo nicotine pouches

“Velo is not mellow!” Taken October 28, 2023 in Columbia City, IN by Nancy Cripe

Velo nicotine pouch ad "More smiling, less teeth staining"

“Youth Attraction” Taken October 30, 2023 in Islamabad, Pakistan by Qamar Iqbal

Our winners for the “modern” oral nicotine category showcase some of the key challenges with this rapidly growing product segment: the high nicotine content, youth-appealing flavors, and the often misleading marketing. While the advertisement from Islmabad, Pakistan on the right advertises a cosmetic benefit of “less teeth staining” many nicotine pouch and other modern oral nicotine product advertisements also include language that implies health benefits as well, which can make the products more appealing to youth. Learn more about modern oral nicotine products from the Truth Initiative’s article What is Zyn and what are oral nicotine pouches? and in our podcast episode.

Vape Shops

counter at vape shop

“Flavor craze – Berry berry confusing” Taken November 7, 2023 in Grand Island, NE by Michelle Halpine

Our winner in this category highlights the changing nature of vape shops, with an increasing number diversifying their product offerings to include cannabis-based products as well. In addition, you can see the price promotions offered and the variety of flavors. Learn more about e-cigarettes at the point of sale

Menthol Madness

Ads for menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars on a lightpole by the sidewalk

“Intense Flavor Game Along the Sidewalk Nearest the Elementary School”

Taken February 21, 2023 in N. Manchester, IN by Nancy Cripe

While the FDA’s rule to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes has been sent to the White House for final review, implementation likely won’t occur until at least a year after the rule is finalized, and is likely to be further delayed with any tobacco industry litigation. Menthol cigarettes are easier to start, harder to quit, and tobacco companies have disproportionately marketed them to African American communities for decades, resulting in disparities in use and tobacco-related health harms. Menthol cigarettes are also the cigarettes youth are most likely to start using, and they are more likely to lead to dependency. The ads depicted above are located outside a store near an elementary school – exposing kids to marketing for these deadly and addictive products. Learn more about menthol. 

Flavor Craze

flavored e-cigarette display behind a store counter

“Can’t buy a soda without being barraged by candy-flavored tobacco!”

Taken November 1, 2022 in Fort Wayne, IN by Nancy Cripe

This winning photo shows the range of flavored e-cigarette products still on the market despite their role in e-cigarette use among youth. Federal law only prohibits flavors other than menthol and tobacco in cartridge-based e-cigarettes like JUUL. Disposable e-cigarettes, which can still be flavored, have become the most popular among youth. According to data from the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, nearly 90% of youth who use e-cigarettes use flavored varieties, with the most commonly used flavors being fruit (63.4%) and candy (35.0%). While popular brands shift based on policies and enforcement (e.g. Hyde, one of the brands pictured above, was most one of the most popular brands when this picture was taken in 2022, while Mr. Fog, also pictured above, was one of the most popular in 2023), what remains true is that youth will use whatever flavored products are available to them. The FDA sent warning letters to the manufacturers of Hyde e-cigarettes earlier this year for illegally selling the unauthorized products. However, many other unauthorized products remain on the market, and public health organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids are calling on the FDA to remove all flavored e-cigarettes, including menthol.

Greatest Youth Appeal

E-cig display and smokeless and cigar ads above an ice cream cooler

“Hey kids! Do you want some tobacco with that ice cream? It comes in great flavors.”
Taken February 15, 2023 in Webster, FL by Melissa White
e-cigarette that looks like a youth-appealing drink

“Disposable Ease brand Snowwolf model flavored stealth e-cigarette disguised as an orange snow cone, displayed at the Monterey Liquor checkout window” Taken September 20, 2023 in Tucson, AZ by Carl O’Kelley
Left image: Eye-level is buy-level, and these ads for smokeless tobacco products and flavored cigarillos are right above the ice cream cooler where kids are going to be drawn to anyways. And there’s an e-cigarette display with popular flavored Elf Bar e-cigarettes right above it, too. Tobacco companies pay for prime advertising and display space in stores for a reason – they know it works to get kids interested and get them hooked. 
Right image: Products like these e-cigarettes that resemble youth-appealing drinks like slushies are among the FDA’s priorities for enforcement, and this week the agency issued warning letters to seven online retailers for selling such items. However, with the abundance of these products on the market and challenges with FDA enforcement action against unauthorized e-cigarette products, it becomes a whack-a-mole approach. E-cigarettes have now been the top-used tobacco product among youth for 10 years, and while declines in e-cigarette use led youth tobacco product use to decrease among high school students from 16.5% in 2022 to 12.6% in 2023, unfortunately it also increased among middle school students from 4.5% to 6.6% during this time period. Learn more about e-cigarettes at the point of sale. 

Most Ironic

"Thank you and be well" sign above a tobacco display at a Walgreens

“Walgreen’s Chicago 2017” Taken September 11, 2017 in Stanford, CA by Robert Jackler

Yes, somehow tobacco products are still sold at pharmacies like Walgreens that claim to promote health. This “Thank you and be well” sign above the tobacco display shows the irony of the situation. Selling tobacco in pharmacies sends a mixed message to consumers about the dangers of tobacco products, makes it harder for people who smoke to quit, and is a conflict of interest for pharmacists. Learn more about tobacco-free pharmacy policies.

Cheap & Steep

Buy 5 Save $5 inner circle rewards program ad

“Saving $5 at the cost of your health” Taken September 12, 2023 in Tucson, AZ by Brittany Hale

Price discounts are the largest category of tobacco companies’ marketing expenditures for both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, totaling nearly 86% of total industry spending on these deadly products combined in 2022. Low prices, coupons, and discounts encourage youth to start smoking and can lead them to become regular smokers. Raising the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective strategies for reducing initiation, decreasing consumption, and increasing cessation. It also has a pro-equity effect on smoking. Learn more about point of sale pricing policies as non-tax approaches to raise prices.

Stores near Schools 

tobacco ads on the corner near a school

“Small-town, corner convenience store .25 miles from the elementary school and on the school bus route” Taken November 6, 2023 in N. Manchester, IN by Nancy Cripe

Research has shown that there is an increased smoking prevalence among schools located in neighborhoods that have the highest tobacco retailer density compared schools located in neighborhoods without any tobacco retailers. This photo shows how in-your-face tobacco advertising near schools can be, with several tall stacks of ads on the street corner near an elementary school – visible from the sidewalk and from the bus. See the “school” sign above the speed limit sign?  Licensing and zoning can both be tools to limit how close tobacco retailers can locate to schools and other youth-oriented places. Learn more about stores near schools.


Native American character statue outside a smoke shop

“Crescent vape shop using a stereotypical Native American image in branding and advertising. The name “CRESCENT TOBACCO & NEWS” on the wooden indian is vestigial because they stopped selling newspapers and magazines years ago.” Taken November 7, 2023 in Tucson, AZ by Carl O’Kelley
The tobacco industry’s targeted marketing tactics drive disparities in tobacco use and tobacco-related harm. Marketing for any product includes advertisements based on demographics, but for a product with significant negative health impacts, like tobacco, focusing on a particular audience creates health disparities that further impact communities that are already hindered by social inequity.  The tobacco industry has exploited Native American images, strategically and opportunistically taking advantage of a long history of some Native Tribes growing and using tobacco for their own sacred and medicinal purposes. As a result, Native American or Alaska Native (also known as First Nation or American Indian) groups have the highest prevalence of cigarette smoking among all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. Learn more about industry targeting of Native Americans and point-of-sale commercial tobacco. 
In addition to winners for each category, you can find all photo contest submissions along with other captivating images of point-of-sale tobacco industry tactics in our image gallery.

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.” [1] The tobacco industry spends the majority of their marketing budget at the point of sale promoting its deadly products.[2] 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.

CounterTobacco.org is a project of Counter Tools. Counter Tools (logo)
#pf-body #pf-header-img { margin: 0 0 0.5rem; height: 62px; }