Industry Refutes Anti-Tobacco Report

NACS, others counter claims "demonizing" c-stores for cigarette displays, lobbying

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), as well as some state convenience store lobbying groups and anti-tobacco advocates, disputed the findings of a scathing new report by anti-tobacco groups "demonizing" the convenience retailing industry.

"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," said the report, "Deadly Alliance: How Tobacco Companies & Convenience Stores Partner to Market Tobacco Products & Fight Life-Saving Policies," by anti-tobacco groups Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Counter Tobacco, as well as the American Heart Association.

"Tobacco companies 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," the report claimed.

It calls on elected officials to adopt policies--especially higher tobacco taxes--that reduce tobacco use and counter the influence of point-of-sale (POS) marketing.

Click here, or see Related Content below, to view previous CSP Daily News coverage of the report.

NACS said the study relies on outdated data, some going back more than 30 years, and makes accusations of complicity that does not exist. "They are a lot of casual assumptions being made that they are saying creates a causal relationship," Jeff Lenard, spokesperson for the Alexandria, Va.-based association, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "It's very hard to consider this study as new findings."

He said, "The primary reason for such tobacco displays is to let adult consumers know we carry their brands, and not to attract nonsmokers. Cigarettes are a legal product we sell in a legal way, with the vast majority of displays behind the counter and a clerk requiring proof-of-age from consumers."

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said that POS advertising is pivotal to manufacturers because of how they are limited in marketing their products. "Communication and interaction with adult tobacco consumers regarding their brand choices is essential for effective competition," Reynolds spokesperson David Howard told the newspaper. "Youth tobacco use is at historic lows and every state in the country is meeting or exceeding goals to reduce illegal sales of tobacco products to minors. In North Carolina, the compliance rate among retailers is 85%."

Lenard said c-stores represent a large portion of cigarette sales because "a lot of other outlets have gotten out of the business because their sales volumes have gone down as tobacco taxes have gone up."

But, he said, "Having a clerk handling tobacco sales is a deterrent to youth sales, and there are stiff penalties for convenience store operators caught selling tobacco products to underage consumers."

The anti-tobacco groups also accuse convenience stores of being willingly "enlisted as front groups to oppose tobacco tax increases and other policies to reduce tobacco use ... despite considerable evidence that the retail economy does not suffer as a result, including recent studies finding that cigarette tax hikes had little effect on the number of convenience stores or overall retail employment."

Lenard said "it is laughable" for the anti-tobacco group to suggest higher tobacco taxes don't hurt sales. Most state c-store lobbying groups say they oppose tobacco-tax increases for competitive reasons, such as losing sales to neighboring states.

Bill Godshall, executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, told the Journal that the campaign's study "contains no new information, but lots of exaggerated claims. During the past 15 years, there have been sharp declines in youth tobacco use, illegal tobacco sales to youth and tobacco advertisements, including those in retail stores."

He said a key legal test is likely to take place in Providence, R.I., which recently banned tobacco price discounts by retailers. That strategy has manufacturers paying retailers to discount the price of cigarettes.

"Several tobacco companies have sued Providence challenging the legal authority of the city to ban tobacco price discounts," Godshall said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it is struck down as unconstitutional." (See Related Content below for previous CSP Daily News coverage.)