Price Chopper tobacco sales down as displays shrink, taxes grow

A year after muting the displays and advertising on tobacco products sold in stores, Price Chopper s

A year after muting the displays and advertising on tobacco products sold in stores, Price Chopper says sales for the products have declined.

“Certainly, that has been most impactful in terms of Price Chopper being able to fulfill its commitment not to entice another generation of smokers,” Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub told The Gazette. “The sexiness, the attractiveness of the packaging, is no longer visible to consumers.”

But Golub said the sales decline can also be attributed to the rising cost of the product and the big jump that taxes on cigarettes have taken over the last year.

“Collectively they have affected a category saleswise,” Golub said. “New York state’s taxes shot up higher than surrounding states.”

The company also discourages smoking among its employees and provides smoking-cessation classes.

Nearly two years ago, Wegman’s, another upstate New York supermarket chain, stopped selling cigarettes and tobacco products altogether.

While supermarkets like Price Chopper weigh the pros and cons of offering tobacco products, The Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition continues a more than three-year effort to change the way supermarkets and grocery stores display such products in their stores.

According to director Judy Rightmyer, the coalition is making strides with Hannaford Supermarkets and other grocers throughout the state, with the aim of having the companies relocate their tobacco advertisements and products from checkout areas to the customer service desk.

“They’re having conversations with us and they want to get a prototype as to what their displays would look like by Kick-Butts Day in March,” Rightmyer told The Daily Gazette on Friday. “More stores are either stopping the sale or covering the product.”

Rightmyer said she went to a Hannaford market in Glenville and noticed a kiosk for tobacco products was replaced by a smaller, relocated display.

“I went in there this past Sunday and it’s totally gone. They’ve moved the display. They’re one quarter the size they used to be.”

Grand Union Family Markets, which has locations in Warren, Washington, Essex and Rensselaer counties among its nearly 30 stores in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont, made similar efforts about a year ago.

“They’ve actually moved their products behind customer service counters,” Rightmyer said.

Statewide, the coalition is connecting with other grocery chains in Long Island and western parts of the state.

“There’s a group that’s even working with Walmart on the issue,” Rightmyer said. “Our goal is to decrease the advertising and promotion of the product.”

The coalition is a nonprofit organization funded by the state Department of Health.

Years ago, a coalition survey found 57.9 percent of Schenectady County residents believe cigarettes and cigars should be sold only at the service desk in grocery stores and not at registers. Almost 36 percent of people surveyed disagreed with that proposition. Almost 70 percent of people surveyed said tobacco advertisements and signs should be voluntarily eliminated within stores. Almost 27 percent of consumers opposed that proposal.

The coalition’s efforts this year fall in the shadow of recent federal rulings that may impact the way tobacco companies do business.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Kentucky upheld tobacco advertising restrictions under that state’s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Federal district court judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. said cigarette makers have to use more of the space on each pack to tell smokers how cigarettes impact their health, and banned tobacco company merchandise. The 47-page ruling also prohibits tobacco companies from sponsoring public activities, market to children or make health claims about their products without federal review by the Food and Drug Administration.

Citing the First Amendment, McKinley said the government can’t prevent tobacco companies from using color and graphics in their advertisements, however.

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Tobacco Co. said they may appeal.

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