A Review of Cigarette Marketing in Canada - 5th Edition - Summer 2006


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Taking the Power out of
Power Walls


The power wall problem

"Power Walls”, the large displays of cigarettes found behind cash registers at convenience stores, gas outlets and other tobacco retailers  are important cigarette promotional vehicle. The importance of these displays has grown since restrictions were placed on mainstream advertising. (For a review of Canada's tobacco restrictions, see our last edition)

Tobacco companies have increased their focus on retail promotions, and accordingly increased their spending on these displays. Canadian tobacco companies spent $60 million on retail promotions, including payments to retailers and in-store signage, in 1996, [4]but $90 million in 2004.  [3]

Support for these displays comes in form of  cash, equipment, and prizes are exchanged for prime retail space, fully stocked shelves, and regulatory opposition. BAT industry documents reveal that “impulse sales are lost when stock is not available or cannot easily be seen or reached”; this is extremely significant since more than 60% of tobacco purchases are impulse buys. Studies conducted during the 1990’s concluded that cigarette retail displays increase average tobacco sales between 12-28%. [1]

Health Canada commissioned research confirms that Canadians recognize that these displays are really just another form of tobacco advertising.  "The typical wall of cigarettes in a retail establishment is clearly perceived to be a form of advertising. Moreover, such displays have a significantly greater influence on younger smokers compared with older smokers in terms of encouraging them to smoke more often."

Not surprisingly, the report found that people buy cigarettes where they are most promoted - at convenience outlets and, increasingly, gas outlets. 

The same report found that

  • 77% of Canadians considered the wall of cigarettes to be a form of advertising.
  • 53% of Canadians believe displays promoting cigarettes encourage young people to be more likely to smoke.
  •  17% of smokers aged 18-34 said seeing the wall of cigarettes makes them want to purchase cigarettes more often.
  • 64% of Canadians think there should be some form of restriction on the display of cigarettes at retail. [2].
"Before" implementation of display bans "After" implementation of display bans

Governments are responding with bans on retail displays.

Recognizing the impact of “power walls”, governments have made several moves towards banning them. Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Thailand, and some Australian states have either restricted or banned the visible display of tobacco products.

Although the Canadian federal government has the authority to ban all visible retail displays of tobacco products, such authority has not yet been exercised. However, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nunavut have banned such displays, and Ontario and Quebec and Prince Edward Island have passed laws which will ban these displays.  



[1] ►Ontario OTS MEDIA NETWORKBACKGROUNDER Point-of-Sale Promotion of Tobacco Products

[2]►Health Canada 2005 National Baseline Survey on the Tobacco Retail Environment

[3]PSC Press Release. January 2005.

[4]PSC Background: Canadian retailers and cigarette promotion, 1999.


Additional information:


Saskatchewan's experience. 

Non Smoker's Rights Association.  The influence of powerwalls

Ontario government:  Fact Sheet – Point-of-Sale Displays



Manitoba's Non-Smokers Health Protection Act
Northwest Territories Tobacco Control Act
Nunavut's Tobacco Control Act
Ontario's Smoke-Free Ontario Act
P.E.I.'s Smoke-Free Places Act
Quebec's Tobacco Act
Saskatchewan's Tobacco Control Act

Filter-Tips is produced by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.
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