News from the Noteworthy: Ordinances Can Improve Tobacco Retail Environment

News from the Noteworthy by Tobacco-Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie

Ordinances Can Improve Tobacco Retail Environment

Just a few weeks ago, Tobacco Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie did a survey of tobacco retailers in the City of Oneonta. The survey results provide a microcosm of the tobacco industry’s marketing in the retail environment nationwide, which in turn challenges us to consider their impact on residents’ health.

As we have previously written, the tobacco industry spends about 97 percent of its $9+ billion annual marketing budget—$173 million in New York State—on point-of-sale marketing. To recap: In stores that sell tobacco products, especially convenience stores, tobacco products are clearly displayed behind a store’s checkout counter where customers make most of their impulse buys. The tobacco products are wrapped in packages that mimic popular candy and gum products, and located near candy, soda, and toys. These strategic displays and placements attract children’s attention and have them associate tobacco products with sweet, harmless treats.

Research has long shown that POS tobacco marketing impacts community health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported in its April 2021 “Summary of Scientific Evidence: Tobacco Retail Density, Location, and Licensure” that the more exposure to retail marketing, the higher the rates of youth initiation and tobacco use, especially flavored e-cigarettes, increased smoking and decreased cessation.

The tobacco industry ensures there are plenty of tobacco retailers because the more there are, the more exposure to its POS marketing. The CDC estimates there are about 380,000 tobacco retailers nationwide, 27 times more than McDonald’s and 28 times more than Starbucks. The CDC also reports that “tobacco retailer density is greater in areas with higher proportions of people likely to use tobacco: households receiving public assistance and areas with higher proportion of African American residents, same-sex couples, rural residents, and youth. Tobacco retailers are often located near schools.

In our survey of Oneonta, we counted 20 tobacco retailers, 14 of which were convenience stores. Eighteen of the 20 tobacco retailers had tobacco products displayed within one foot of candy or soda. Thirteen, or 65 percent of the 20 retailers, had more than half of their checkout counter space dedicated to tobacco products. One tobacco retailer was within 1,000 feet of Valleyview Elementary School.

When comparing the TFC-DOS 2023 survey of Oneonta’s tobacco retailers to previous years—2019-2020 and 2020-2021—we can see the impact of state laws passed in 2020 on the retail environment. In those previous years, Oneonta had 27 tobacco retailers. The loss of seven retailers is in part because of the 2020 New York State law that banned the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. Before the state ban, Oneonta had four pharmacies in its tobacco retailer tally.

However, four new tobacco retailers in Oneonta replaced former businesses, which means the tobacco industry still sees the city as a profitable area for them. It is also understandable that small retailers sell tobacco products. According to, the tobacco industry incentivizes retailers, especially convenience stores with “promotional allowances.” This is money paid to retailers “to facilitate the sale or placement of tobacco products,” including “stocking, shelving, displaying and merchandising brands, volume rebates, incentive payments,” and other items.

The good news is, just as 2020 state laws have changed the tobacco retail environment for the better, local communities can do so as well by adopting carefully considered licensing and zoning policies. For instance, Oneonta can establish ordinances that control the location of tobacco retailers, require tobacco retailers to be located a certain distance from one another, and cap the number of tobacco retailers allowed in the city. For more information, contact TFC-DOS at (607) 376-7910.

Jennifer Hill is community engagement coordinator for Tobacco Free Communities: Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie.

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