This new report, which may appear to many as being high in hyperbole and short on verifiable facts, nevertheless represents one of the broadest attacks on convenience stores, linking them to tobacco companies as co-conspirators in the eyes of health advocacy organizations.
“Tobacco companies have enlisted convenience stores as their most important partners in marketing tobacco products and fighting policies that reduce tobacco use, thereby enticing kids to use tobacco and harming the nation’s health,” stated a news release from The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The report, entitled “Deadly Alliance: How Tobacco Companies and Convenience Stores Partner to Market Tobacco Products and Fight Life-Saving Policies,” goes on to say that tobacco companies spend more than 90 percent of their marketing budget to “saturate convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets” and pay stores billions to ensure that cigarettes and other tobacco products are advertised heavily, displayed prominently and priced cheaply “to appeal to both kids and current tobacco users.”
That statement alone should cast doubt on the accuracy of the report since c-store industry executives often note that, with few exceptions such as Native American reservations, cigarettes prices per pack and cartoon are at all-time highs, and stores already face severe fines and penalties for illegally selling to underage children.
The report also accuses convenience stores of becoming “front groups for the tobacco industry in fighting higher tobacco taxes and other public policies that reduce tobacco use.” However, the report doesn’t say how it distinguishes between a “front group” and a business that is simply lobbying for its right to sell a legal product to adult smokers.
“The result of this alliance is more kids smoking, fewer adults quitting, more tobacco-related death and disease, and higher health care costs for everyone,” the report states. “In short, the tobacco industry and its convenience store allies are making a killing by making deadly and addictive tobacco products all too convenient.”
Actually, national volume of cigarette consumption has declined from approximately 1.82 billion cartons in 2007 to 1.31 billion in 2011, according to Convenience Store News’ latest Industry Forecast Study. C-store cigarette volume has also declined, albeit as a slower rate than other types of retailers who have voluntarily exited the cigarette business.
The report presents the hardly-startling fact that “convenience stores and other retail outlets have become, by far, the dominant channel for marketing tobacco products in the United States. “C-stores sell about two-thirds of all cigarettes. In OTP (other tobacco products), c-stores’ share is about 91 percent, compared with 6 percent for supermarkets and just less than 3 percent for drugstores, according to Nielsen figures.
“Despite their claims to have changed, tobacco companies continue to bombard kids with messages encouraging them to smoke, and convenience stores have become their most important partner in doing so,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. It is critical that elected officials reject the influence of these special interests and take action to protect the nation’s children and health instead, he added.
“This report exposes how tobacco companies enlist retailers to advertise and promote their deadly products. As a result of this alliance, stores are now the major channel where they lure youth with colorful advertisements and entice current smokers with aggressive price promotions. This report is a wakeup call that states need to be focusing on the point of sale to combat these harmful industry practices,” said Kurt M. Ribisl, Ph.D., Director of the Counter Tobacco project and Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The report calls on elected officials to adopt policies – especially higher tobacco taxes – that reduce tobacco use and counter the influence of point-of-sale marketing. Despite evidence that in high tax states like New Jersey, tobacco taxes are reaching the point of diminishing returns, the report calls higher tobacco taxes a “win-win-win for states — a health win that reduces smoking, especially among kids; a financial win that produces significant new revenue; and a policy win that polls show is strongly supported by voters across the country.”
The report doesn’t address the fact that tobacco taxes might unfairly burden smokers, who tend to be working class or poor, and jeopardize jobs at retailers at a time of high unemployment.