We advance place-based public health by helping our partners implement and enforce policy, systems, and environmental changes that promote health equity across communities.
We aim to reduce the detrimental impact of unhealthy substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food at the consumer’s primary point of exposure and access: the retail environment.
Counter Tools draws on the best available science and an evidence-based model of change to help state and local partners reduce the impact of products that harm the health of individuals and communities. Based on a community’s needs, our work focuses on prevention strategies, enforcement tactics, or a combination of both.
With a team of public health experts, we offer extensive training, technical assistance, and advanced technology aimed to increase our partners’ capacity to build healthier communities for all.
Model of Change
We use an evidence-based model of change to empower communities to become healthier places for all.
Document the local problem
Formulate policy solutions
Engage strategic partners
Raise community awareness
Persuade decision makers
Implement, enforce, and evaluate
Counter Tools provides an assortment of professional services to meet the needs of our partners. We provide support, guidance, and best practices for advancing public health and empowering communities to become healthier places.
Click on the links below to learn more about our services.
Counter Tools provides personalized consultation with public health practitioners at the state and local level. Our expertise is on point-of-sale related efforts such as:
the policy change process
pros and cons of policy initiatives
ways to reach and mobilize a community
how to garner political support
We help partners set achievable intervention goals based on contextual factors, capacity and readiness. Our expert project managers communicate with state and local-level staff and their community partners to plan strategies, discuss progress, and celebrate successes. Our work has been successful in improving collaboration between agencies, and we convene thought leaders in the field to share ideas across state lines.
Our team works closely with identified stakeholders throughout planning and implementation to facilitate the structure needed for an authentic power-sharing process that empowers everyone involved to be heard and influence change.
Agenda Setting and Strategic Planning
We convene stakeholders and energize public health advocates to set an agenda for change. We facilitate goal setting, highlight project successes & relevant findings, and provide recommendations for next steps.
Equity and Disparities Consultation
We provide training on health equity and help our partners analyze data and determine ways to decrease disparities in communities. We advise on what policies and initiatives would yield the most equitable, fair, and just outcomes.
Collaboration and Convening
We improve cross-agency collaboration and promote synergy across place-based public health efforts within a state through outreach. We also convene public health partners across states doing similar work to advance the field.
Data Collection Planning
We help plan and manage data collection using best practices, providing the tools and resources needed based on each partner’s goals. We provide assistance with many types of store visits, including assessments, compliance checks, AVC inspections, and merchant education. We help our partners collect data about the sales and marketing of products such as tobacco, alcohol, food, and cannabis products in the retail environment.
Program Implementation Support
We help our partners achieve goals that align with national standards and guidelines (such as the CDC’s National And State Tobacco Control Program) by tracking, measuring, and evaluating outcomes. We also assist states in completing all steps required by the Synar Amendment, from conducting a coverage study and developing a sampling frame to planning compliance checks and analyzing data.
Enforcement Process Improvement
We help enforcement partners improve their process for conducting compliance checks by integrating visit data from state and local agencies as well as the FDA and Synar. Our software tools enables user to complete compliance checks on retailers, search violations, export data, and conduct retailer sampling. We also offer custom analysis, reports, maps, and infographics that incorporate federal and state enforcement data.
Counter Tools provides data visualization and storytelling materials that states and local areas use to educate decision makers, community members, and other stakeholders. These materials tell the story of a community’s retail environment or other conditions of the built environment to inform policy change and interventions. Data stories can take the form of infographics, maps, reports, and other communication materials.
Infographics use visual elements and data points to share information in an easy-to-read and distributable format. Data may represent insights from store assessments, the density and location of retailers on a map, facts and figures from research, and much more. Our customizable templates include visuals such as charts, graphs, maps, and graphics, supported by text that describes the relevance of the data.
GIS / Mapping
Maps are a useful tool to understand the retailer landscape and visualize patterns in locations, density, and proximity to youth-oriented locations. Using GIS expertise, we create custom maps to display points of interest such as tobacco and alcohol retailers, schools, and parks. Demographic layers such as race & ethnicity and income can be added to provide insight into disparities. Maps may also include data from store assessments and enforcement checks to tell a story about product availability, pricing, advertising, and/or sales to underage youth.
Our software tools feature advanced mapping capabilities with dynamic updates driven by data changes. Learn more in the Technology Tools and Services section.
In-depth reports on the point-of-sale landscape equip state and local leaders with information to formulate strong, relevant, and effective strategies for change. Reports may include analysis on the potential for public health impact of a goal, policy context, legal feasibility of various policy options, level of political will, community readiness, as well as key findings from store assessments and retailer violation data.
Other Communication Materials
Communication materials complement a state or localities’ work and help advocate for change when shared with decision makers, community members, and other stakeholders. In addition to the examples above, materials may include presentations, handouts, or digital marketing content such as social media posts, press releases, simple charts, factsheets, and more. We work closely with our partners to develop specific talking points based on data, research, and best practices, tailored to the unique context of each community.
Counter Tools offers in-person and web-based training designed to engage participants based on best practices for adult learning and youth facilitation and build community capacity to create positive change. Training often includes dynamic discussion around a community’s challenges as well as goal setting for policy implementation based on a community’s needs and guidance on evidence-based strategies.
Each training event we lead is planned, coordinated, and facilitated in close collaboration with local partners.
Place-Based Public Health and Point-of-Sale Concepts
We provide training on a variety of place-based public health and point-of-sale (POS) concepts, such as:
Understanding and advancing place-based public health
Why the retail environment matters for health
The purpose of store assessments for point-of-sale policy change
The purpose of mapping for point-of-sale policy change
We also provide specialized webinars on select topics covering tobacco, food, alcohol, or cannabis and will work with you to determine topic areas that are most relevant and applicable.
Store assessments are a way to collect data on what products are being marketed and sold in local stores. This documentation can be used as evidence for working towards a variety of policies and initiatives. Store assessments may look at product availability, pricing, promotions, advertising, and placement. Our training prepares our partners to collect high-quality data through their store assessments and energizes teams for data collection.
Our team is prepared to discuss challenges, successes, best practices, and emerging evidence at conferences or meetings. Past topics have included the retail environment’s impact on communities of color, addressing health equity in place-based public health, tobacco or alcohol outlet density, and youth engagement in tobacco control.
Youth Advocacy Training
We provide training geared towards youth to help them understand how the tobacco industry targets them with certain products and what they can do about it. Youth learn about advocacy and social justice, how to be leaders in their communities, and how to educate their peers. Our youth trainings have featured engaging activities such as scavenger hunts, group projects, games, social media advocacy, and collaboration with other youth groups at rallies.
Counter Tools builds and maintains technology tools to assist our partners with data collection and management, visualization, mapping, and reporting. We offer proprietary tools that are used by multiple clients, as well as custom-built tools designed for specific states or agencies. We also offer data management services to clean, analyze, and upload data to our tools, ensuring standardization and data integrity.
The Point-of-Sale Toolkit (POST) is a user-friendly, web-based platform that provides the tools needed for successful data collection, data management, visualization, and analysis relevant to retailers where tobacco, alcohol, and other products are sold and marketed.
Integrate data from multiple agencies, such as state agencies, FDA, and Synar and build a comprehensive retailer list
Collaborate across teams with multiple user roles to collect data, identify trends, and create reports relevant to your communities
Visualize the impact of policy change with enhanced mapping capabilities and explore health disparities among populations and geographic areas
POST is available on a subscription basis and may include account services such as data uploads, retailer list management, user management, campaign management, and more.
The Store Mapper is an online data visualization tool that maps out point-of-sale data on specific types of retailers, such as tobacco or alcohol retail outlets. The tool can include retailer density and proximity to schools and parks, enforcement records, store assessment/audit results, and demographic data. Mapping data can be viewed at statewide and local-level, such as counties, cities, and zip codes. These data and visuals can show trends and patterns, disparities, and give a snapshot of the retailer landscape across a state, and be exported in reports. The Store Mapper is provided on a subscription basis, and configured with state-specific data.
Custom Software Development
We create custom software tools to assist states or localities with data collection, retailer list management, mapping, violations tracking, and more. We also enhance our existing software tools with custom features to meet specific needs of our partners. We work with strong development teams in both agile and waterfall software development methods.
Custom Form Development
We assist in developing custom survey forms that meet the needs of a state for assessment, enforcement, or education efforts. These forms are for documenting specific data at the state or local level. Once the forms are developed, we program them into our online software tools for mobile data collection where the data can be aggregated, analyzed, and exported.
Retailer lists need to be cleaned to take out unnecessary data, remove duplicates, and standardize names and address formats. A comprehensive and accurate retailer list is a prerequisite for conducting a thorough data collection campaign. Retailer and visit data cleaning is also an integral part of data analysis and development of reports and data visualizations.
We analyze collected data based on identified research questions and goals. We work collaboratively with our partners to determine data points, eligibility criteria, geographic parameters, and the best format to present the analysis.
We work with our partners to determine appropriate sampling strategies based on their goals and provide a list or “sample” of retailers to use for data collection, whether that is a random, representative sample or a more purposive sample of retailers near schools, or something else that meets their capacity and needs.
Counter Tools provides free resources to empower leaders to make informed decisions that improve the health of their community. We stay up-to-date on public health news, convene thought leaders, and share insights with our partners.
CounterTobacco.org is the first comprehensive resource for local, state, and federal organizations working to counteract commercial tobacco product sales and marketing at the point of sale (POS). Our site offers the latest research, news updates, policy solutions, case studies, advocacy materials, factsheets, youth engagement activities, and an image gallery exposing tobacco industry tactics at the point of sale. CounterTobacco.org is a project of Counter Tools and is supported by ChangeLab Solutions and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Subscribe to the Counter Tobacco newsletter to stay up-to-date on tobacco point-of-sale news and research.
Counter Tobacco Podcast
The Counter Tobacco Podcast is an interview and research-based podcast that aims to highlight the role of the tobacco industry’s influence at the point of sale. Episodes range from deep dives on how the tobacco industry targets different groups of people to coverage of what’s being done today to counter tobacco sales and marketing in the retail environment.Listen to previous podcast episodes here.
Healthy POS Webinar Series
We provide webinars on select topics relating to point of sale and place-based public health, featuring expert speakers and dynamic discussions. View archived webinars here.
Counter Tools entered into a project with Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to create an accurate state-wide tobacco retailer list, utilizing data integration and ground truthing work. Deepening local understanding of the effect of the tobacco retailer environment on health enabled Virginia to develop a statewide infrastructure for tobacco use prevention and control.
Reality Check is a youth-led program that focuses on the tobacco industry’s marketing practices and teaches youth how to be community leaders and educators. Counter Tools has partnered with Reality Check since 2015 to conduct training sessions that highlight the industry’s targeting of youth, minorities, and lower-income neighborhoods with point-of-sale tactics. Besides gaining foundational knowledge, youth are also trained on advocacy and social justice and participate in rallies outside the annual Altria shareholder’s meeting. In recent years, the event has become a multi-week virtual event that includes youth groups from a variety of locations, and features training sessions, social media advocacy, and other interactive activities.
Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco-Free Florida has partnered with Counter Tools since 2013 to survey the retail environment and spread awareness around healthy retail, and in more recent years the work has shifted focus to passing policies. Counter Tools provided training and message framing on why the retail environment matters and an increased understanding of tobacco retailer licensing and relevant strategies. In January 2019, Alachua County implemented a local tobacco retailer licensing policy, raised the minimum legal sales age for tobacco to 21, and required any new tobacco retailers to be located at least 1000ft away from schools.
Counter Tools has partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to help support local areas in the state in their pursuit of policy change around tobacco and in 2019, the suburban city of Golden Valley passed a number of comprehensive tobacco prevention policies. Counter Tools provided a data collection tool, an online mapping tool, analyzed data and created infographics, which local grantees used for communication and engagement with key stakeholders. The assessment and mapping data were strategic elements that helped bring awareness to and educate the Golden Valley’ City Council and community on the tobacco landscape and its impact on citizens.
We partnered with Wisconsin Department of Health Services to assist with data collection, provide understanding, and support change related to alcohol and food products in the retail environment. We analyzed assessment data at both the county and state-level and created infographics and factsheets. The coalitions shared these with community members, decision-makers, and other stakeholders to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy retail environment.
Counter Tools and Truth Initiative partnered to develop a set of retail tobacco store assessment questions specifically focused on menthol and other flavored commercial tobacco products. The new form fSTARS was piloted in two cities and later revised to reflect the evolving market for flavored e-cigarette products and tested in three additional cities. The final report examines how flavored tobacco products are marketed and sold in those 5 U.S. cities. The participating cities received training and technical assistance from Counter Tools and Truth Initiative, and data analysis was completed by Counter Tools.
The Geographic Health Equity Alliance (GHEA) and Counter Tools partnered to create the Geographic Surveillance Learning Collaborative for National Tobacco Control Programs and National Comprehensive Cancer Control. The primary objective of this collaborative was to build the capacity of state programs to conduct surveillance of tobacco policies in a format that adheres to the methods and principles of the field of policy surveillance. Seven states participated in the Year 1 Collaborative and shared how they used geographic surveillance to support program planning, identify health disparities and improve communication strategies and policy efforts.
Background Tobacco marketing and promotions saturate retail stores in most communities—the same places where students might stop for an afternoon snack on the way home from school. The tobacco industry spends about $1 million per hour marketing their products, most of it at the point of sale. In Kansas, it is estimated that the tobacco industry spends $68.3 million [More]