Trends in the Number and Type of Tobacco Product Retailers, United States, 2000-2017

Nicotine Tob Res. 2021 Jul 24;ntab150. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntab150. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Tobacco product retailers provide access to tobacco products and exposure to tobacco marketing. Without a national tobacco retailer licensing system in the United States (U.S.), there are no estimates of national trends in tobacco retailer numbers and store type over time.

Methods: We developed a protocol to identify likely tobacco retailers across the U.S. between 2000-2017 using industry codes and retailer names in the annual National Establishment Time Series (NETS) database. We calculated annual counts of tobacco retailers in seven store type categories, and annual numbers of tobacco retailers that opened and closed.

Results: We estimate that there were 317,492 tobacco product retailers in 2000; the number grew to 412,536 in 2009 before falling to 356,074 in 2017, for a net 12% increase overall. Gas/convenience stores and grocery stores accounted for more than two thirds of all retailers. On average, new openings accounted for 8.0% of the total retailers, while 7.3% of retailers closed or stopped selling tobacco each year, with stronger market volatility following the Great Recession. Since 2011, there was a disproportionate reduction in tobacco-selling pharmacies, and an increase in both tobacco-specialty shops and tobacco-selling discount stores.

Conclusions: During two decades when smoking declined, tobacco retailer availability increased in the U.S. The economic climate, corporate and public policies, and new tobacco products may all contribute to trends in tobacco retailer availability. State and local jurisdictions considering tobacco retailer policies may find retailer trend information useful for forecasting or evaluating potential policy impacts.

Implications: This study provides historic data tracking tobacco retailers in the U.S. between 2000-2017, documenting trends that unfolded as the general economic market contracted and grew, with greater regulation of the tobacco retailer environment. These data provide a context for better understanding future changes in the tobacco retailer market. In addition, the protocol established in this study could be applied in any U.S.-based location without tobacco retailer licensing to allow identification of stores and tracking of trends.