Large Marlboro-branded tobacco power wall at the point-of-sale, with large sign reading "Come to where the flavor is"

Strategic placement of tobacco products is an integral component of the tobacco industry’s marketing scheme. The Federal Trade Commission reported that in 2022, the tobacco industry spent over $1.2 billion on promotional allowances to tobacco retailers and wholesalers to control the strategic shelving and placement of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. Read more on the “War in the Store.” Point-of-sale tobacco product displays have been found to:

  • Increase perceived availability and accessibility of tobacco products, especially among youth.[1] 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.[2]
  • Increase brand recognition, especially among youth,[1] which increases odds of smoking.[3]
  • Encourage impulse purchases of tobacco products, cue cravings, and undermine quit attempts. [456]

Several options to restrict tobacco product placement are intended to close loopholes in the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. While the Act banned self-service displays for cigarettes and smokeless products, it excluded many categories of other tobacco products (OTPs) from these restrictions.

Placement Restrictions

Tobacco product placement restrictions 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 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.[9This type of provision would extend the ban to all types of tobacco products and could include little cigars and cigarillos and e-cigarettes as well. Review Changelab Solutions’ model ordinance for more information.
  • 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 Public Health Law Center’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 [7] New York State has prohibited the display of tobacco products and paraphernalia in exterior windows or storefronts within 1500 feet of schools (500 feet in New York City).
      • 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. [7]
Story from the Field: Haverstraw, NY

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.

Story from the Field: New York City

At the same time as New York City passed it’s 2013 Sensible Tobacco Enforcement legislation and raised the minimum legal sales age for tobacco to 21, it considered a Tobacco Product Display Restriction that would have banned the display of any tobacco products or tobacco product packaging by all retail dealers of tobacco products (convenience stores, gas stations, new stands, bodegas, etc.), requiring them to be stored out of public view, except during a purchase by an adult consumer or restocking by a store employee. It also would have set an age restriction of 18 for entering retail tobacco stores. While the bill had the support of 61% of New Yorkers, the bill was dropped and never voted on. Learn more here.

The evidence for restricting tobacco placement 

Policies that restrict tobacco product placement and display can help to counteract the tobacco industry’s efforts to attract new, current, and recently quit smokers through power walls. 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.  [8910, 11 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.[12] Further, research shows that these restrictions don’t hurt business or add unnecessary burden to store clerks. [121415 Even Ireland’s Convenience Store and Newsagent Association has stated that retailers have “nothing to fear.”

Countless packages of various flavored Swisher Sweets cigarillos with "2 cigars for 99 cents" emblazoned on packaging and product boxes

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