Cheers for CVS Becoming Tobacco Free, But Jeers for Point-of-Sale Advertising at Other Tobacco Retailers
Many of you have seen or heard about how on October 1, 2014, CVS Health went tobacco free. This means CVS Health has implemented a store policy that they will no longer sell tobacco products, like cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, in any of their more than 7,600 stores.
This is a huge step forward when it comes to tobacco prevention and CASAColumbia commends CVS’ proactive approach. But it also brings to light the reality that the majority of tobacco sales take place at convenience stores, supermarkets, tobacco stores and beer, wine and liquor stores, not at drugstores. So while this change is monumental, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to combating the tobacco epidemic at the point-of-sale. Point-of-sale refers to any location where tobacco products are advertised, displayed and purchased. And while the point-of-sale accounts for 90% of the tobacco industry’s marketing budget and has become the main venue for tobacco product marketing since the Master Settlement Agreement* in 1998, it has largely been left unregulated.
Today, the point-of-sale marketplace has become a focus for tobacco control advocates hoping to address the tobacco epidemic. This represents the final phase of a comprehensive strategy by these advocates to end smoking, which traditionally has focused on taxing tobacco products, tobacco-free laws, counter marketing campaigns and smoking cessation services.
In October, Legacy, a national non-profit committed to empowering young people to reject tobacco, brought together public health and retail industry leaders to discuss tobacco retail sales and ways to improve prevention efforts when it comes to the point-of-sale.
The discussion centered on the need to change tobacco regulations and policies at the point-of-sale. These changes include reducing the number, location and density of tobacco retail outlets, restricting tobacco product placement and point-of-sale tobacco advertising. One outcome of the discussion focused on the need to identify strategies to restrict—if not eliminate—tobacco advertising at the point-of-sale. Exposure to advertising at the point-of-sale is associated with youth smoking initiation and difficulty quitting. Point-of-sale tobacco advertising is currently protected under the First Amendment, which provides tobacco manufacturers’ the right to advertise at these locations.
As detailed in CASAColumbia’s report Time to Ban Menthol, tobacco retailers aggressively target advertisements, marketing and discount promotions at the point-of-sale. Addressing the tobacco epidemic at the point-of- sale would contribute to reducing the number of smokers nation-wide.
*The Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 was when the tobacco industry agreed to not directly target youth and banned marketing, advertising and promotions on outdoor billboards, in magazines, on TV and through advertising on vehicles. As a result, the tobacco industry funneled its marketing to the point-of-sale, because it had been left unregulated.
Azure Thompson, DRPH
Azure Thompson is Research Scientist, Associate Director of Policy Research and Analysis at CASAColumbia