Smoke signals

Should supermarkets stop selling Cigarettes? We think that's a decision for the markets to make. But whether they should decide under pressure of a new anti-smoking advertising campaign is a More complex matter.

Should supermarkets stop selling Cigarettes? We think that's a decision for the markets to make. But whether they should decide under pressure of a new anti-smoking advertising campaign is a More complex matter. It's hard to argue with anti-smoking groups that want supermarkets to voluntarily stop selling Cigarettes, as some chains in New York already have. As the state Health Department points out, in an advertisement that appeaRed in this newspaper and others last week, a pack of smokes hardly belongs among such grocery cart staples as bread, eggs, milk, cheese and broccoli. Tobacco just doesn't fit in. Or at least it shouldn't. But it is equally hard to argue with the supermarket chains when they say they are caught in the middle of competing interests. Tobacco remains a legal product. As long as it is not sold to minors, why shouldn't supermarkets carry it? And that's only part of the dilemma. Consider this: Anti-smoking advocates note, correctly, that cigarette advertising and product displays tend to glamorize this unhealthy product, especially in the eyes of youth. But what about other products that are similarly displayed, such as beer? Doesn't alcohol pose a risk to youngsters as much as tobacco? And aren't the consequences of alcohol abuse More immediate than tobacco? So where to draw the line? Some supermarkets have taken steps to conceal tobacco products from sight or keep them behind counters, out of customers' reach. That seems like a sensible compromise. The larger issue, of course, is the mixed signals that New York state sends on smoking. Even as the Health Department was calling on supermarkets to stop selling Cigarettes, the Legislature was approving yet another increase in the cigarette tax, which will raise the price of a pack to $7. True, the higher tax is being touted as a way to discourage smoking, which it may well do to some degree. But the More cynical aspect of this tax is that lawmakers need it to help close the state budget deficit of $4.7 billion. Thus, they are counting on smokers, who most often are those with lower incomes, to help balance the books. The double standard fools no one, including those youngsters who might be curious about smoking. It would be better to send a consistent message against smoking by not relying on tobacco sales and enacting a progressive tax increase, such as the one Assembly Democrats proposed for millionaires. How much better that approach than to target a shrinking constituency that is rapidly losing its say in Albany. ISSUE:A new campaign asks supermarkets to stop selling Cigarettes.THE STAKES:The state shouldn't have it both ways on this issue.

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