The tobacco industry spends about $1 million per hour marketing their products, most of it at the point of sale.

Store assessments are an essential component in building awareness and documenting tobacco industry activity in your community.

Tobacco marketing, products and promotions saturate retail stores in most communities—the same places where you buy milk, snacks, and medicine. Research has shown that exposure to tobacco advertising and promotions prompts smoking initiation, encourages tobacco use, and undermines quit attempts. Every day over 1,400 youth in the U.S. try their first cigarette, and over 4,300 youth try their first e-cigarette. 

Store assessments (also referred to as store audits or observations) allow you to collect data about what is happening at the stores in your community and use this information to educate the public, policymakers, and our youth about the deceptive marketing tactics that are used by the tobacco industry. 


About 71% of states conduct or have conducted surveillance at the POS, according to the POS Report to the Nation. This report also highlights assessing the retail environment as a key recommendation to getting started at the point of sale. Store assessments provide critical data on the micro retail environment, one of seven “data springs” for formulating local retail tobacco control policy. In a 2015 study of national representative sample of counties across the country, counties that had performed retail tobacco assessments were more than six times as likely to have adopted point-of-sale policies than those that had not.[1] Find examples of communities conducting store assessments in Stories From the Field and learn more here about the steps involved in conducting store observations of tobacco marketing and products. You can also learn more about how store assessments can support efforts to reduce tobacco-related disparities in ChangeLab Solution’s Addressing Tobacco-Related Health Inequities: Resources to Inform Point-of-Sale Policies.

Looking for more guidance in the process or tools for conducting store assessments?
Counter Tools is a public health non-profit that provides training, technology tools, and technical assistance to public health practitioners who are working on point-of-sale tobacco control and other retail initiatives, including store assessments.

Store Assessment Tools

There are a number of tools that can be used to conduct store assessments. Check out the list below: 

Standardized Tobacco Assessment for Retail Settings (STARS)

STARS was designed for practitioners to inform state and local tobacco control policies pertaining to the point of sale. The STARS form and training materials resulted from a collaboration of State and Community Tobacco Control (SCTC) researchers with stakeholders from five state health departments, the CDC, and the Public Health Law Center (formerly called the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium). The assessment items (e.g., price, product promotions) were selected exclusively for their policy relevance; no items function as compliance checks for federal regulations. This user-friendly survey can be filled out by professionally trained data collectors, as well as self-trained youth and adults. The STARS survey and accompanying training materials can be downloaded from the button below.

Standardized Tobacco Assessment for Retail Settings: Vape Shops (vSTARS)

vSTARS was developed in response to a STARS user survey where further information on vape shops was requested. This instrument, structured similarly to the original STARS, assesses different aerosolizing devices sold within vape shops, product availability of various liquid or loose-leaf psychoactive substances, sampling of flavors, health messaging, and price promotions.

Standardized Tobacco Assessment for Retail Settings: Flavored Tobacco (fSTARS)

Counter Tools and Truth Initiative partnered in 2018 to develop a set of retail tobacco store assessment questions specifically focused on menthol and other flavored tobacco products as an additional module to the STARS form. This set of questions was piloted in two cities within Tobacco Nation in order to field-test the questions and to facilitate the cities’ consideration of flavor-based policies and other point-of-sale tobacco control policies. An updated iteration of the form, fSTARS 2.0, is currently being tested in three additional cities both within and outside of Tobacco Nation.

Assurances of Voluntary Compliance Field Inspection Form

A tobacco-related Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) is a legally binding and enforceable agreement between a company (a tobacco retailer) and one or more states (under each state attorneys general) in which the retailer agrees to adhere to certain standards and practices to reflect their commitment to the responsible marketing of tobacco products. Collecting data about a retailer’s adherence to the standards and practices it agreed to through an AVC is a great way to engage your community and see results quickly. is a project of Counter Tools. Counter Tools (logo)
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