A report from Counter Tools and Truth Initiative examines how flavored tobacco products are marketed and sold in 5 U.S. cities, with new data looking specifically at e-cigarette products.

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Counter Tools and Truth Initiative initially partnered in 2018 to develop a set of retail tobacco store assessment questions specifically focused on menthol and other flavored commercial tobacco products. These questions were added to the Standardized Tobacco Assessment for Retail Settings (STARS) form. The new form fSTARS was piloted in two cities within Tobacco Nation in order to field-test the questions and to facilitate the cities’ consideration of flavor-based policies and other point-of-sale tobacco control policies.

The pilot study “Colorful and Close to Candy: Surveying how the tobacco industry markets flavored products in stores” examined marketing in stores in Ohio (Dayton and Cleveland) from 2018 to 2019. The data showed that tobacco prices were cheaper in neighborhoods that had more youth, and almost every tobacco retailer located near schools displayed ads for flavored tobacco products outside.

Following the initial pilot, the form was revised to reflect the evolving market for flavored e-cigarette products, to be able to better compare flavored and non-flavored products, and to compare local data with national trends in disparities in the availability and marketing of flavored products. The most recent study “Surveying How the Tobacco Industry Markets Flavors in Five Midwestern Cities” spans from 2019 to 2020 and examines marketing in cities in Missouri (Columbia and Lee’s Summit) and Illinois (Evanston). E-cigarette products were more widely available in the cities where stores were assessed in 2020 than in those assessed in 2018-2019.

The participating cities received training and technical assistance from Counter Tools and Truth Initiative, and data analysis was completed by Counter Tools.