State Restrictions on Cigarette Sales in Retail Outlets
As of 2009, few states regulate advertising and tobacco sales in retail outlets such as grocery stores and convenience stores. Because there are so few restrictions, tobacco companies aggressively advertise their products in retail outlets. Advertising has always been a point of contention between the tobacco industry and the public health community. After the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998, when tobacco companies were required to change their advertising strategies, they then began focusing on point-of-sale advertising in retail outlets. In the years since the settlement, tobacco companies typically spend more than 100 million dollars a year on point-of-sale advertising . The prime spot for these advertisements is close to the check-out counter. A 2001 study completed in California found that almost 90 percent of advertisements were located within a 4-foot radius of the check-out counter and that approximately half of all advertisements were placed three feet or lower, right at the eye-level of young children . Restructuring the way tobacco products are sold will help restrict access to these products by underage youth and is expected to reduce overall smoking rates.
One State’s Success in Restricting Cigarette Sales in Retail Outlets
Efforts to restrict tobacco sales among Oklahoma retail outlets began in the early 1990s amidst other tobacco control campaigns. For example, a bill banning smoking in public places, including restaurants, was passed in 2003. In 2004, the Tobacco-Free Oklahoma Coalition and the national Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids joined forces to pass a voter-approved tobacco tax increase . Multiple organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Oklahoma State Health Department, and the Oklahoma State Medical Association, campaigned for a 2004 bill restricting tobacco sales. This campaign included even groups not traditionally involved in anti-tobacco campaigns, such as the Oklahoma Parent Teachers Association (PTA), the Oklahoma state chapter of the AARP, and the Oklahoma Academy, a nonprofit organization that identifies public policy issues critical to Oklahoma's future.
Also in 2004, the Oklahoma State Senate and Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill (SB 1256) placing further restrictions on cigarette sales in Oklahoma state retail outlets in an effort to reduce youth access to tobacco products. The bill included key components such as:
- prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors;
- banning self-service displays of tobacco products in stores that minors are allowed to enter;
- enforcing face-to-face cigarette sales in stores in which youth are permitted; and
- banning vending machines containing tobacco products from areas accessible to youth .
The penalty for retail owners caught selling tobacco products to minors three times in a two-year period is a 30-day cigarette license suspension .
Two major factors contributed to the success of the campaign. One primary campaign motivator was related to the requirements outlined in the Synar Amendment, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is designed to reduce tobacco use among youth. According to these regulations, block grant federal funding to states for mental health and substance abuse programs can be cut drastically if more than 20 percent of retail outlets accessible to minors fail random inspections to ensure retailers are not selling tobacco products to youth . Prior to 2004, Oklahoma was in danger of failing to comply with this requirement. Many advocacy groups and state organizations attempting to gain support for the bill from policy makers made an issue of this risk to the state’s funds. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), in particular, had a major hand in successfully campaigning for the bill since the potential cuts in federal funding would apply to substance abuse block grant money administered by that agency. Thus, the ODMHSAS promoted the legislation and actively communicated its concern to lawmakers.
Another important component of the successful campaign was the tobacco industry’s inability to lobby against the bill due to certain requirements outlined in the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). According to the MSA, the tobacco industry cannot oppose any legislation that enhances enforcement efforts to identify and prosecute violations of laws prohibiting retail sales to youth or limiting youth access to vending machines . Thus, advocates for the bill experienced fewer obstacles in gaining the support of lawmakers.
 FTC (Federal Trade Commission) (2005) Cigarette Report for 2003. Washington DC: Federal Trade Commission.
 Feighery, E.C., Ribisl, K. M., Schleicher, N., Lee, R.E., & Halvorson S. (2001) Cigarette advertising and promotional strategies in retail outlets: Results of a statewide survey in California. Tobacco Control 10(2):184-188.
 Marshall, P. (2009, March 23). Telephone interview.
 Robinson, B. & Vaughn, R. (2004). SB 2516. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from
 Matheny, D. Chief of the Oklahoma Department of Health Tobacco Use Prevention Service. (2009, March 26). Telephone interview.
 Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Tobacco/SYNAR Fact Sheet. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from
 State of California Office of the Attorney General. (2009). Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Retrieved March 27, 2009, from http://ag.ca.gov/tobacco/msa.php.
Note: In 2004, the Tobacco-Free Oklahoma Coalition changed its name to the Oklahoma Alliance on Health or Tobacco.