Hidden Tobacco Will Come at a Cost

Madison County, N.Y., retailers outline expenses of proposed tobacco display ban

WAMPSVILLE, N.Y. -- Banning tobacco products from the view of customers will have no impact on sales--this is the line proponents of a tobacco display ban in Madison County, New York, are trying to sell retailers.

Actual retailers think differently.

"Operationally, it's going to be a nightmare," Peter Tamburro, a senior exec at Madison County-based Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, told Tobacco E-News. "Many convenience stores (although not Nice N Easy) run with one clerk per shift. If the products have to be locked up, they'll be in a back room. How can the clerk get to the product if the consumer asks for it without abandoning the register?"

If the ban proposed by the Madison County Board of Health passes, tobacco retailers open to minors would be required to keep tobacco products out of sight, although where they put the products would be up to the store owners. Ban proponents suggest retailers could put tobacco products under the counter, in a back room, behind a curtain or any location where they cannot be seen by customers.

Anyway, they add, most consumers know what product they want to buy--whether visible or out of sight.

Merchants strongly disagree. Cliff Brazie, director of retail merchandising for Warren, Pa.-based Kwik Fill/Red Apple Food Marts, said this isn't always the case, especially in New York, which boasts the highest cigarette tax in the country.

"Smokers still want to go someplace where they can see what you have," said Brazie, whose company operates several stores in New York, including Madison County. "Because cigarettes are so expensive, everyone wants a deal. That's why companies like Altria and R.J. Reynolds are putting so much money into promotional deals, especially in the state of New York. If you black everything out, how can you compete?"

Although against the proposed display ban, both Brazie and Tamburro support crackdowns on underage tobacco purchases and can cite many examples of how their companies are doing just that.

"We have our own courses we put people through to sell tobacco," Brazie said. "We do extremely well--if you're under 18, you're not going to buy cigarettes at Kwik Fill."

Nice N Easy puts employees through similar training to avoid the strict punishments that come with underage tobacco sales.

"We already post warning signs; we have tobacco license suspensions for repeat offenders; we have the health department dropping in to check up on us," Tamburro said. "It's more difficult than ever for adolescents to purchase cigarettes."

One thing both Brazie and Tamburro are certain of is that a tobacco display ban in Madison County would absolutely cost their stores money and could lead to even costlier display bans across New York and beyond.

"New York State likes to be the first on the boat," Brazie said. "Chautauqua County was the first place to ban the self-service displays, and, boom, that went across the state, then across the country. You can see how things get out of control. This is really scary."


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