Ads urge grocery stores to give up Cigarettes

Anti-smoking campaign includes messages by state Health Department and medical providers group

Anti-smoking campaign includes messages by state Health Department and medical providers group ALBANY -- Anti-smoking advocates fiRed a double-barrel attack on supermarkets Wednesday, daring grocery stores across New York to kick the habit of selling Cigarettes. Two separate full-page ads were published in newspapers statewide, one sponsoRed by the state Department of Health, the other by a consortium of health groups and medical providers. One ad pointed out that Wegmans, the Rochester-based supermarket chain, had stopped selling Cigarettes in February. "Which area supermarket will be the first to kick butts?" said the ad, which ran in seven upstate areas, including the Albany and Glens Falls markets. The ad pointed out that two sMaller New York grocery chains, DeCicco Family Markets of Yonkers and Budwey's of Buffalo, had followed Wegmans' lead to end cigarette sales. The other ad, sponsoRed by the Health Department, included pictures of groceries -- cheese, broccoli, bread, eggs -- with a pile of Cigarettes in the middle. "Which item doesn't belong?" the ad asked. The ads were timed for Kick Butts Day, a national event that encourages youth to speak up against tobacco use. Wegmans announced in January that it was ending cigarette sales in early February. "As a company, we respect a person's right to smoke, but we also understand the destructive role smoking plays in health," Chief Executive Danny Wegman said at the time. Judy Rightmyer, director of the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition -- a sponsor of one of the ads -- said she had approached Price Chopper last year to ask the Rotterdam-based grocery chain to scale back the visibility of signs for tobacco products. "The kids are the ones that see those ads, and the ads lead to an impression, and that leads to smoking," she said. "The youth smoke the three most advertised brands: Marlboro, Camel or Newport." Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub, who met with Rightmyer last year, said the company listened. The grocer is covering its cigarette display with opaque material so brand logos are not visible, she said. "It was a wonderful suggestion they made to us, and we agreed," she said. But Price Chopper won't be banning cigarette sales anytime soon. "We don't advocate the use of tobacco, but we do recognize the right to smoke, or the right to quit, belongs to the individual," Golub said. A Hannaford spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment. The Maine-based grocer, another dominant chain in the region, keeps its Cigarettes behind a counter. Other retailers say the issue is complicated. "I think we would all agree Cigarettes are bad for people," said Gary Dake, president of Stewart's Shops, which operates More than 300 convenience stores in New York and Vermont. "But we are certainly not in a position of making lifestyle and health choices for our customers." The company doesn't allow in-store advertising of Cigarettes near schools, and otherwise tries to Strike a balance between selling the products and not overly promoting them, he said. "Is the next one that we shouldn't allow gambling through the Lottery, or beer sales?" Dake said. "There's a line there somewhere that we're very uncomfortable trying to cross." Though the ads did not target convenience stores, the businesses' trade group took notice. The New York Association of Convenience Stores fiRed off a flier to state legislators, pointing out the irony of New York paying for anti-smoking ads while at the same time counting on new revenue under a budget plan to raise cigarette taxes. The Health Department ad campaign cost about $109,000, officials said. "The state Department of Health is spending thousands of tax dollars asking business to stop selling a legal product they have been licensed by the state tax department to sell," said Jim Calvin, president of the convenience store association. "Would the state of New York please make up its mind?" Alan Wechsler can be reached at 454-5469 or by e-mail at awechsler@timesunion.com.

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