News and Events

The Tobacco Free Partnership Hopes to Bring Tobacco Retail Licensing to Levy County
June 23, 2020

Tobacco addiction in Levy County is negatively impacted by tobacco product placement, marketing, and advertising in stores that sell tobacco products. Additionally, research shows that the proximity of tobacco retailers to school campuses correlates to youth tobacco use and initiation. Finally, stores that sell Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes exclusively are not required to hold a license to sell tobacco products from the State of Florida. Each of these elements combine to create a disproportionate amount of Levy citizens who suffer from the burden of tobacco addiction and each of these elements could be addressed through a requirement for a local tobacco retail license.

Since tobacco companies are limited in the advertising options they can use, a key strategy involves saturating convenience stores with tobacco ads and highly visible tobacco products. Studies have shown that tobacco use is associated with exposure to retail advertising and easy access to tobacco products. Cigarette companies have significant control over their products’ location, advertising, and pricing in retail stores in return for financial incentives that they provide to retailers. Those incentives are often formalized in contracts or merchandising agreements and tobacco companies use these contracts to secure prime display space (for example, at the end of an aisle, at eye-level, or on the countertop), define the amount of advertising and products to be displayed, and establish price and promotional incentives. This encourages tobacco use and undermines quit attempts.

The pervasiveness of tobacco products and marketing in stores also creates a community norm that makes tobacco use seem common and acceptable. Additionally, as gas prices have declined in the past few years, disposable income has increased, helping to boost cigarette sales for the first time in years. In other words, the tobacco industry is gaining profits as lower-income smokers can afford more cigarettes. In fact, lower-income, minority communities are bombarded with tobacco advertising at the point of sale. This is partly because these communities typically have more convenience stores and gas stations compared to more affluent, white communities. More retailers mean greater presence of tobacco marketing.

Similarly, the density of tobacco retailers, particularly near schools and parks, facilitates youth access to tobacco. More frequent visits to stores selling tobacco and greater awareness of cigarettes sold in stores increases the likelihood of teenagers being susceptible to initiating, experimenting, or becoming current smokers. Additionally, there is no requirement for businesses that sell e-cigarettes and associated liquids to have a license. This means that there is no regulatory authority making sure that these businesses are adhering to laws pertaining to age of sale or identification requirements. Furthermore, there are few restrictions on the advertising or marketing of those products, apart from some regulations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) related to flavors and package design.

Local retail licensing policies can address where tobacco products are sold through the number, type, location (e.g., near schools or parks), and density of tobacco retailers (1). Licensing and zoning policies provide local and state governments opportunities to effectively reduce the availability and exposure to tobacco among youth, discourage tobacco use generally, and protect their citizens from the harmful effects of tobacco. These types of policies can also help to reduce neighborhood disparities in tobacco retailer density and marketing volume (2).

Levy County has nearly seventy stores with licenses from the State of Florida to sell tobacco, and the Tobacco Free Partnership of Levy County has completed monitoring of the types of tobacco and related products that are sold in every store and how these products are marketed. Further monitoring of 12 stores identified as having voluntary agreements for responsible tobacco retailing were also completed. The results showed that the tobacco industry heavily markets their products in Levy’s stores and advertising of products is prevalent, even in stores with voluntary agreements. Often tobacco products are displayed on countertops within 12 inches of youth-oriented items, such as candy or toys. Many advertisements are placed at a child’s eye level (3 feet or below), and some convenience stores are within walking distance for youth from school or parks.

Levy County youth and adults use tobacco and e-cigarettes at higher rates than other counties in Florida, and it’s important that decision makers make efforts to combat the tobacco industry’s influence on citizens’ health locally.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of the Tobacco Free Partnership of Levy County or joining the Point of Sale Policy Task Force, please contact us at info@tfp-levy.org or 352-577-4309 or visit our partnership website: www.tfp-levy.org.

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References:

  1. Ackerman, A, et al., “Reducing the density and number of tobacco retailers: policy solutions and legal issues,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research, published online April 28, 2016.
  2. Ribisl, KM, et al., “Reducing disparities in tobacco retailer density by banning tobacco product sales near schools,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research, published online August 26, 2016.