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Tobacco companies have enlisted convenience stores as their most important partners in marketing tobacco products and fighting policies that reduce tobacco use, according to a report released today by leading public health organizations, including The University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The report says that the industry and stores together are enticing kids to use tobacco and harming the nation’s health.

The report, titled “Deadly Alliance: How Tobacco Companies and Convenience Stores Partner to Market Tobacco Products and Fight Life-Saving Policies,” was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Counter Tobacco (a project that works to counter tobacco product sales and marketing at the point of sale) and the American Heart Association.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing the nation $96 billion in health care expenditures each year.

As other forms of tobacco marketing have been restricted, tobacco companies now spend more than 90 percent of their marketing budget – nearly $10 billion a year – to saturate convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets, according to Federal Trade Commission tobacco marketing reports. Tobacco companies pay stores 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. Convenience stores also have become essential partners with the tobacco industry in fighting higher tobacco taxes and other public policies that reduce tobacco use.

“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.”

“This report exposes how tobacco companies enlist retailers to advertise and promote their deadly products,” said Kurt M. Ribisl, PhD, director of the Counter Tobacco project and associate professor of health behavior and health education at the UNC public health school. “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 wake-up call that states need to be focusing on the point of sale to combat these harmful industry practices.”

Ribisl also is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Tobacco marketing in stores entices kids to smoke and use other tobacco products, discourages current tobacco users from quitting, targets minority communities and portrays deadly tobacco products as appealing and acceptable, according to the report.
With tobacco ads prohibited on television, radio and billboards and less frequent in magazines, convenience stores remain one place where kids are regularly exposed to tobacco advertising and promotions. More than two-thirds of teenagers visit a convenience store at least once a week.

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. It calls higher tobacco taxes a win-win-win for states – a health win that reduces smoking, especially among kids; a financial win that products significant new revenue; and a policy win that poll show is strongly supported by voters across the country.

The full study is available online.