Category Archives: tobacco sales

Westminster, Mass., drops bad idea to ban all tobacco sales

no tobacco

Well, I saw this coming from a mile away.

Westminster, Mass., which came up with a proposal to ban all tobacco sales within town limits, dropped the whole thing after a huge uproar, both from a petition opposing it and a throng of people who showed up at the town’s board of health meeting that grew so heated it was brought to a halt 20 minutes after it started.

At a follow-up meeting this week, the health board voted (predictably, IMO) 2-1 to table the idea.

The objections didn’t necessarily come from smokers, but from local merchants and civil libertarians, who believed the move was too much of a government intrusion into private lives and personal decisions.

It was a bad idea, I mean, because of nothing else, all it would have  accomplishes was forcing people to drive to some other town five or 10 miles away to get their cigarettes. It wouldn’t have stopped anyone from smoking, it would’ve just wasted gas. Not to mention all the litigation the town likely would have been hit with.

I’m all for doing all that can be done to crack down on tobacco — within reason. This wasn’t reasonable. It wasn’t practical.

In the words of a local merchant:

“They (the health board) really saw the town was overwhelmingly against it,” said Joe Serio, the owner and pharmacist at the Westminster Pharmacy, which sells cigarettes.

“What upset everyone was that we felt like we didn’t have a say,” said Mr. Serio, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. “But this didn’t divide the town — it united us.”

Mr. Serio said the board understood that news of the proposal had put new pressures on everyone.

“It was obvious that the board wouldn’t meet again without a large contingency of townspeople there,” he said. “And there was a tremendous demand that being in the national spotlight put on us — the volume of phone calls, mail, emails, the news media that came in. After a while, you have to get back to business.”

Westminster, Mass., goes bonkers over proposed ban on tobacco sales

New York Times photo
Westminster, Mass. New York Times photo

OK, I fully expected this hearing to be heated, but even this blew me away.

The town of Westminster, Massachusetts, has proposed banning all tobacco sales within town limits. It’s understandably a controversial idea.

Well, the hearing got so whack, it had to be stopped 20 minutes after it started. Nearly 500 people showed up (in a town of 7,000), some of them apparently from out of town, to the public hearing. It became so out-of-control that the town’s health board made no decision (and likely won’t at this point).

Of course, the issues went way beyond just smokers vs. nonsmokers, as people brought up freedom of choice and personal liberties and the town’s proposal as a government intrusion on individual. (Wow, I’ve actually heard a lot of the same arguments about smoking bans. A lot of alleged nonsmoking Libertarians gets riled up by smoking bans.

It was heated enough, the New York Times wrote about the little town’s brouhaha.

From the Times:

“They’re just taking away everyday freedoms, little by little,” said Nate Johnson, 32, an egg farmer who also works in an auto body shop, as he stood outside the store last week. “This isn’t about tobacco, it’s about control,” he said.

OK, I can dig that to a degree, but this next quote from the Times story is just plain silly.

As Wayne and Deborah Hancock grabbed a shopping cart, they joined in. All quickly agreed that the next freedoms at risk would be guns and religion, prompting Mrs. Hancock, 52, a homemaker, to say that she was afraid to wear her cross.

“I’m thinking, ‘Am I going to be beheaded?’ ” she said, not entirely joking.

A few brief comments actually got in during the hearing:

Wayne R. Walker, a town selectman, said that the selectmen had voted unanimously to oppose the ban. “I detest smoking and tobacco in all its forms,” he told the health board, but such a “unilateral and radical approach” as banning all sales would “create a significant economic hardship.”

A resident named Kevin West said that smoking was “one of the most disgusting habits anybody could possibly do,” but added: “I find this proposal to be even more of a disgusting thing.” The shouts after his statement prompted Ms. Crete, who had issued several warnings, to declare the hearing over.

Apparently, as the board adjourned the meeting, the crowd began singing “God Bless America,” and board members had to be escorted out with police protection.

Oh, man, I’ve sat through too many of those kind of ginned-up public meetings. Really, at this point, the town should just drop it because it’s inviting  a mess of litigation in my opinion and ultimately probably won’t effectively stop anyone from smoking if they really want to. But, officially, the matter was simply postponed.


Town in Massachusetts considers banning all tobacco sales

Westminster, Massachusetts

A tiny town in Massachusetts — Westminster — is proposing to ban all tobacco sales. The city is holding a public hearing on this proposal this week. If Westminster does this, it will be the first town in the U.S. to actually ban tobacco sales.

A local store owner is asking people to sign a petition against it, saying that tobacco sales make up about 5 percent of his retail sales.

From the Christian Science Monitor article:

“It’s going to send business five minutes this way or five minutes that way — no one’s going to quit,” said Brian Vincent, who admits to enjoying a cigar himself now and then.

He has gathered more than 800 signatures and other stores owners claim they will present the town’s health board with petitions with several hundred more signatures.

Of course, Altria (Philip Morris) has chimed in

From the article:

David Sutton, a spokesman for Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, called the proposal a “bad policy” that will harm local employers.

“We believe businesses should be able to choose which products they carry,” Sutton said. “If the ban were to be implemented, adult tobacco and e-vapor consumers could shift their purchases to neighboring stores. The proposed regulations, if enacted, would fundamentally alter these businesses and would likely cost Westminster jobs.”

I will guarantee that if the town goes ahead with the ban, Altria and R.J. Reynolds will likely file suit, or at least assist any grocers’ association lawsuit.

I have mixed feelings about the proposal. Of course, I’m totally against tobacco, but these sorts of punitive measures usually don’t serve a lot of purpose in the long run, I think. Like someone said, it will just force smokers to drive a few minutes out of their way to another town. Education is more effective, I think.

CVS pulls all tobacco products, changes name

lockup_fnalv6 As the company announced a few months ago, CVS went ahead this week and pulled all tobacco products off its shelves — and changed its name to CVS Health in conjunction with this move. However, CVS, the second largest drug store company in the U.S., made the decision more quickly than they announced they would. It was supposed to happen in October, but they went ahead and made the change shortly after Labor Day. CVS is expected to lose up to $2 billion a year in retail sales, but this move is also part of a “rebranding” for the chain  to become more of a health care provider, rather than a general drug store with film development, candy, office supplies, etc. So, the company is looking to make up for those losses by making more money on health care services, products, etc. This is according to the New York Times

The decision to stop selling cigarettes is a strategic move as pharmacies across the country jockey for a piece of the growing health care industry. Rebranding itself as a company focused on health could prove lucrative for the drugstore as it seeks to appeal to medical partners that can help it bridge the gap between customers and their doctors.

Again, from the New York Times:

CVS has entered partnerships with more than 40 health systems, including local hospitals, to help run its clinics. The company opened 32 clinics last quarter and is on track to open at least 150 more this year, Carolyn Castel, a CVS spokeswoman, said. Revenues at the clinics are up 24 percent in the second quarter, compared with a year earlier, and the company plans to operate 1,500 clinics by 2017, CVS said.

As CVS seeks new health partners, its decision to end cigarette sales may make it more appealing than its tobacco-selling rivals.

“Think of it this way: Would you find cigarette machines or retail stores in the gift shops in a hospital selling cigarettes? Of course not,” said Nancy Copperman, the corporate director of public health initiatives for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, a minute clinic partner. “I think it does give them a leg up.”

Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, CVS Health also will not sell e-cigarettes either.

No electronic cigarette sales, either. CVS doesn’t sell electronic cigarettes, but after making its tobacco announcement in February, Merlo said the company was monitoring Food and Drug Administration action on the products. Still, it sounds like CVS won’t lift its current ban on e-cigarettes. “We don’t carry them today, and we don’t have plans to carry them,” Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo said on Tuesday.

U.S. Senators urge drug store chains, WalMart to join CVS in banning tobacco products


In response to CVS’ recent decision to halt tobacco sales, eight U.S. Senators –Tom Harkin (D-IOWA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) — wrote two other major chains asking them to follow CVS’ lead.

Major chains contacted over the tobacco ban were Rite Aid and Walgreens (Walgreens has said it is “. … and Rite Aid? Rite Aid says it is “evaluating” its tobacco sales policy.)

Harkin, head of the  Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, didn’t stop there. He has also written a letter to WalMart asking that chain to stop selling tobacco products. That letter was also signed by Durbin, Brown, Whitehouse, Rockefeller and Boxer. No word if WalMart is “evaluating” tobacco sales.

An excerpt from the letter to the drug store chains:

CVS Caremark’s historic announcement comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, and new revelations in the latest Surgeon General’s report that smoking is even more hazardous and takes an even greater toll on the nation’s health than previously known. Smoking kills 480,000 Americans annually, sickens millions more, and costs the nation more than $289 billion every year. The impact of tobacco on our nation’s children is impossible to ignore – 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed. These findings highlight the critical need for all sectors of our community to play a role in ending the unnecessary disease and death that results from tobacco use.

CVS Caremark’s bold and admirable decision will complement federal efforts to save lives and reduce health care costs through continued implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, access to smoking cessation therapies with no out-of-pocket expenses under the Affordable Care Act, and the ongoing success of public awareness campaigns like CDC’s “Tips from a Former Smoker” and FDA’s new “The Real Cost” campaign.

In recognition of the 8.6 million Americans who currently suffer from smoking-caused illnesses, we hope you will join this national effort to end the scourge of tobacco use. We look forward to working with you in a joint effort to promote the health of all Americans.