New Survey Shows Youth Bombarded with Tobacco Promotion in Area Stores

Buffalo, NY – Tobacco companies call them “replacement smokers.” You call them your children.  Either way, area kids are being targeted by cigarette makers with a massive amount of promotion in local stores according to a survey released today by the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition and the American Cancer Society.

Stores were randomly selected from a list of retailers licensed to sell tobacco in Erie and Niagara counties and 80 were visited by student volunteers from October 25 – November 1.  Key facts of the observational survey, released today as part of the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout®, include:

  • Tobacco ads were found inside 93% of stores located in Erie and Niagara counties
  • 90% of the stores surveyed featured tobacco product displays behind the cash register.
  • Tobacco retailers visited included outlets located in Amherst, Buffalo, Hamburg, Lockport, Niagara Falls, Tonawanda and Williamsville

Additionally, researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center found that tobacco retail outlets in the City of Buffalo are approximately 2.5 times more likely to be located in low income neighborhoods and 64% of Buffalo schools have a tobacco retail outlet within 1,000 feet of the school grounds.

Research in the U.S. and abroad suggests that exposure to in-store tobacco promotions is a primary cause of youth smoking. Nearly 90 percent of regular smokers start smoking before the age of 18. Very few begin after high school.

“It's disgraceful. We’ve been able to limit tobacco company advertising in mass media, but they’ve adapted and are taking full advantage of one of their final venues to lure kids into smoking,” said Gretchen Leffler, Regional Vice President, Western New York Division of the American Cancer Society.  “By plastering stores with highly-lit displays and bright ads placed at kid level, they continue to focus on our kids as their next generation of customers.” 

Buffalo Common Council Member Demone Smith, sponsor of the proposed Buffalo tobacco retail license legislation, said that "Irresponsible tobacco advertising has saturated our neighborhoods and is directed at young people. We must clean up our neighborhoods and protect our residents. In order to restrict irresponsible tobacco product promotion and make it less visible to our youngest residents, the Responsible Tobacco Retailing Act is necessary to create enforceable rules."

Retail stores are among of the last places where tobacco companies can expose kids to their promotions.  Consequently, tobacco companies spend billions of dollars each year on promoting their deadly products at the point of sale.  This is done by providing cash incentives to retailers so they can control the dominant display space in retail stores. It is not a mistake that most tobacco product promotion is found around the cash register, sometimes referred to within the industry as the “goal post” because it is the one place in the store where everyone must go.  Tobacco companies invest a lot at these locations in creating so-called “power walls,” the large, visually appealing displays of products intended to attract the interest of customers.

“This type of promotion gives people the impression that tobacco products are just like any other consumer product, which of course is not true. Tobacco promotions target and attract shoppers at the right place and the right time and have a direct impact on sales by encouraging impulse buying,” noted K. Michael Cummings, PhD, Chair of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Tobacco companies will continue to focus their efforts at retail outlets unless we adopt and enforce rules for responsible marketing as Councilman Demone Smith has proposed in the Responsible Tobacco Retailing Act.”

“These surveys demonstrate clearly how pervasive tobacco promotion is throughout the Buffalo area. The siren’s song of tobacco promotions is a lure many young people can’t ignore.  Reducing tobacco promotion in retail stores is essential if we are going to diminish the economic and health harms of tobacco use,” continued Anthony Billoni, Director of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition.

The American Cancer Society and the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition are using the Great American Smokeout® to raise awareness about the strong tobacco company presence in our stores and encourages actions by community members to limit youth exposure to this dangerous and deadly influence. 

Media Contact

Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager