Non-smoking Please: Attorney Generals Seek Ban

Apr 02, 2014

In what many are hailing a bold and courageous move, CVS Caremark made a landmark decision to ban the sale of tobacco products in its 7,600 stores. The company will cease sales by the first of October this year. Now a group of twenty-eight state attorney generals is calling for similar retailers with pharmacies to do the same.

The state attorney generals have composed a letter to retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Kroger, and Safeway. The letter urges the retailers to consider the implications of selling tobacco products which are contradictory to the health care needs that the retailer’s service. The letter also states that selling tobacco in a retail store that also acts as a pharmacy perpetuates the normalization of tobacco use. The letter and proposed ban has gained much support though it might not have all of the attorney generals’ signatures, such as Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley who supports but has yet to sign.

The proposed ban though won’t come without a heavy price tag. United States cigarette sales totaled $91.5 billion last year, thus it is evident that this could have a huge impact on retail chains. Wal-mart and Walgreens are reviewing the letter.

The letter made no mention of electronic cigarettes which had sales of $2 billion last year. The devices have liquid nicotine which when heated creates an inhalable vapor. Many retailers that sell tobacco including Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger, and Rite Aid also sell electronic cigarettes.

While ceasing the sale of tobacco could greatly impact retail stores it could push the customers to seek other avenues for purchasing cigarettes. Online stores could benefit from sales if more retailers with pharmacies ban tobacco. Currently, approximately one in ten smokers buy their cigarettes online. That figure could dramatically change depending on how retailers address the letter. With less competition, online stores can gain more ground in this multimillion-dollar industry. Sales would certainly increase and prices could be impacted as well. But battle lines could be drawn especially in states such as California, which had considered a ban of online cigarette and electronic cigarette sales just earlier this year to protect susceptible youth and children.

The multi-state attorney general call to ban tobacco in retail shops following the CVS Caremark ban could change the industry. Retailers must make a choice between the potential profits and the contradiction of selling tobacco products in stores with pharmacies.

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