CHAMPAIGN — With more states adding restrictions and taxes on tobacco sales, grocery store chain Schnuck Markets Inc. has decided to forego such sales altogether.
Beginning next year, Schnucks grocery stores will stop selling all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, chewing tobacco and snuff, the company said Thursday.
The St. Louis-based company, which has stores in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy, has never sold e-cigarettes or vaping products and that will continue.
The policy was announced Thursday to all store managers at a company meeting, spokesman Paul Simon said, and later to the public.
Schnucks will sell existing inventory only through the end of the year, and to encourage people to quit, smoking-cessation products will earn double points through its Schnucks Rewards program beginning Oct. 15.
While the ill effects of tobacco products have been known for decades, the company said it is stopping sales now as it is “increasing its focus on wellness and healthier choices,” a news release said, citing its recent partnership with gyms, its new healthy kids field-trip program and a wellness guide recently incorporated into the Schnucks Rewards app.
It’s definitely not the first store to restrict or cease tobacco sales.
Aldi doesn’t sell cigarettes, which apparently caused the German company to split in 1960, when two of the brothers who owned it disagreed on such sales.
The Aldi company run by the brother who opposed the sales is the one that later expanded to the U.S.
More recently, Target stopped sales in 1996, and CVS announced in 2014 that it had stopped carrying tobacco products.
Last year, Meijer said it would move cigarettes out of its stores and only sell them at its gas stations.
Niemann Foods also appears to have a mixed policy; its County Markets and Haymakers gas stations sell cigarettes, but Harvest Market doesn’t.
And, earlier this year, Walgreens and Walmart raised the age they require customers to be to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Illinois quickly followed suit, raising the age requirement for purchase to 21 statewide. It also raised the state’s per-pack cigarette tax by $1, making it $2.98 per pack.
But people are still buying cigarettes, Schnucks said in a news release.
“Tobacco products are certainly a profitable part of our business, but our company’s mission is to nourish people’s lives,” CEO Todd Schnuck said. “Tobacco products directly contradict our core mission, and that means that they simply don’t belong in our stores. We respect people’s right to make decisions that are best for them, and while we know this may not sit well with everyone, we believe it’s the right thing to do for the health of our communities and our customers and that makes it the right decision for our company.”
It didn’t sit too well with Rob Skaggs, who was smoking a cigarette Thursday outside the Schnucks in Champaign taken from a pack he had just bought there.
“They can do what they want,” he said. “They’ll hurt their own sales.”
He said Schnucks has a better selection of cigarettes than most places, but that they’re more expensive there than at gas stations.
“I’ll just go across the street,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs, 56, said he started smoking when he was nine years old, as it was common in his family.
“When I was 9 years old, I could go down to the store and get a pack of cigarettes, and then they were only $1.25 a pack,” he said.
Now they’re at least $10 a pack, he said.
“I’ve tried every trick in the book to try to quit smoking,” he said. “I even went cold turkey. I even went and took pills and chewed gum. My body’s used to the nicotine. It’s just hard for me.”
While he’ll miss cigarette sales at Schnucks, he said the policy may help prevent some young people from starting.
“I don’t think any of ’em should be smoking,” said Skaggs, who said he encouraged his kids not to smoke. “All they’re doing is smoking because they want to hang out with a crowd. That’s not the way to do it.”
Schnucks cited the World Health Organization, which says that tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the world, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that more than 1,300 people die each day due to smoking-related illnesses.
“Unlike many other products, there is simply no moderate amount of tobacco use that is not harmful,” Schnuck said.
And the company’s move has been endorsed by the American Cancer Society.
“Tobacco is poised to take 1 billion lives worldwide this century, so Schnucks’ decision to no longer sell tobacco is a victory for public health, corporate responsibility, and customers,” the organization’s CEO Gary Reedy said.