Tobacco ads indoors, not fewer, study says
Courtney McHughes said that when her classmates at Sheridan High School are in the mood for a smoke break, a convenience store that will sell them cigarettes is no further than the nearest school bus stop.
But over the past year, she has noticed more tobacco advertisements inside the store.
"It's like they're everywhere," she said. Her observations seem to be on the mark.
A new study by the University of Illinois at Chicago says large tobacco companies began marketing more heavily in stores immediately after a billboard ban took effect April 24, 1999, as part of a national settlement with the tobacco industry.
In the 1998 national tobacco settlement, the large tobacco companies agreed to stop advertising on billboards, stadium signs, the sides of buses and anywhere else outdoors.
The companies complied, the study says, but to compensate, they increased their in-store advertisements, including posters, multipack discounts, shopping baskets and display cases -- still to attract underage smokers.
A couple of dozen high school students and anti-tobacco activists announced the findings of the study Wednesday at the Shell Superstop at 12524 Chenal Parkway in Little Rock.
They held posters made from photographs they had taken of tobacco product displays. Most were there with the local chapter of Coalition for Tobacco-Free Kids, and they had chosen the store because they said it does a good job of regulating its tobacco advertisements and sales. Three-quarters of teen-agers, the study said, visit convenience stores at least once a week.
The study examined marketing at 3,464 tobacco-selling stores across the country, most of them relatively small and near schools. Researchers visited stores between Feb. 16 and June 23, 1999.
Forty-three percent of the stores had tobacco promotions before billboard advertising was banned, the study says, compared to 50 percent after. Similarly, the number of stores with tobacco-brand promotional items -- such as penny trays on cashier counters -- increased from 66 percent to 73 percent, and the number with multipack discount offers increased from 23 percent to 27 percent.
Despite the growing volume of in-store advertisements, the ban on outdoor marketing may just have accelerated a long-term trend. Frank Chaloupka, a researcher on the study, said tobacco companies, like many American companies, have been expanding into nontraditional forms of advertisement since the 1970s.
For instance, the tobacco industry spent $856 million, or about 33 percent of its marketing budget, on in-store advertisements in 1987, compared to $2.74 billion, or about 48 percent, in 1997, according to the study.
Philip Morris, the largest tobacco company, says it is not doing anything wrong and that it reduced its marketing 20 percent between 1998 and 1999.
"What they [the researchers] were taking was from a snippet from a short period of time," said Evan Anzisk, a spokesman at Philip Morris. "Philip Morris has reduced the visibility and amount of money spent on advertising .... In terms of the practice of retail, it's ultimately up to the retailer where to place the advertisement in the store."
He said the company's efforts are all aimed at attracting adult smokers and that, voluntarily, it will soon quit advertising in magazines with high youth readerships.
The increasing prominence of in-store advertisements, the study says, has kept the ban on billboards from achieving its full intended effect. And they can be targeted at underage youths, the study says, such as with ground signs that are at a child's eye level and cigarette displays that are placed next to candy.
"It is effective because you can immediately respond to it," said Dr. Gary Wheeler, a pediatrician at Arkansas Children's Hospital. "It's sitting right there by the cash register. It's effective in that way and it's kind of like the billboard."
McHughes said it is hard not to be influenced by tobacco marketing. She said she worries specially about her little brother, whom she has caught walking around the house with a straw in his mouth, pretending it's a cigarette.
"It's hard to explain to little kids that they're bad when they're in all the movies and everywhere," she said.