NEW YORK -- Despite applauding Philip Morris' efforts to curb smoking by minors, retailers say they already have minimum age requirements in place and question the company's proposed retailer penalties.
Under the Action Against Access program, unveiled by Philip Morris here June 27, chains caught selling cigarettes to minors will be denied the manufacturer's merchandising benefits.
"I think it is good that Philip Morris is taking a leadership role," said Joanne Gage, vice president of public affairs and consumer services at Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. "But before they cut a retailer off for selling to minors, I think they have to take a look at what steps a retailer has taken to try to avert the problem.
"In our business, we have a lot of human error. We have individuals who make poor judgment calls at times. Philip Morris should not assume that because one cashier made an error in judgment that they cut off an entire retail chain."
Jack Brown, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif., said his chain already adheres to a California state law banning the sale of tobacco products to those under 18.
"We do not have any self-service vending machines in our company. All our single packs and cartons are through a staffed checkstand. If there is a question, we do ask for IDs, and we see no problem with Philip Morris or anybody else developing a program that they feel assists their product and the young people in America," he said.
Mark Roder, public-affairs supervisor at Giant Food, Landover, Md., said Giant has posted signs bearing the minimum age for tobacco sales on its vending machines and display racks for several years. In about 20 stores,
Giant is also testing vending machines that require tokens purchased from cashiers as another incentive to deter juvenile smoking, he said.
"We are very much in support that cigarette sales to minors must be controlled. That is a big issue with Giant. All of our cashiers are instructed that if someone looks questionable, in terms of being under 18, that they should be asking for ID," Roder said.
Bernard Rogan, a spokesman for Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., said Shaw's has taken several steps to keep cigarettes out of juveniles' hands, including the use of undercover cops disguised as shoppers or employees.
"We have a storewide policy that all cigarettes are kept under lock and key, and proof of identification is required. We have a system already in our checkouts where age verification takes place. The undercover police program is very effective, too," he said.
Part of Philip Morris' Action Against Access program will involve members of the company's sales force placing minimum age signs and related materials in more than 200,000 retail outlets nationwide. The company will also use trade associations to ensure the materials reach retail outlets not called on by the sales force.
Philip Morris will also be conducting compliance seminars for retailers and law enforcement officials. The seminars will focus on how retailers can comply with the minimum age laws, including how to ask for identification.
Another key component of the plan is an "Underage Sale Prohibited" message that will be printed on all cigarette packs and cartons by early fall. Philip Morris will also immediately discontinue free cigarette sampling to consumers and mail distribution of free cigarette products. Furthermore, the company will heighten efforts to prevent the use of Philip Morris cigarette brand names or logos on any items marketed to minors, including video games and toys.
"The best way to keep kids away from cigarettes is to keep cigarettes away from kids," James J. Morgan, president and chief executive officer of Philip Morris U.S.A., said at the press conference called to announce the program.
"We believe Action Against Access underscores our commitment to ensure that minors have no access to cigarettes. And we know that the overwhelming majority of the retail community agrees with us and shares that commitment."
Morgan said Philip Morris will also seek federal and state legislation that would require a license for retailers selling cigarettes, stipulate that cigarettes be in the sight of or under the control of sales clerks, require proof-of-age signs in all retail outlets and strictly limit minors' access to vending machines.
Philip Morris' new rulings would have only a minimal effect on self-service display and checkout sales of cigarettes in supermarkets, according to Michael E. Szymanczyk, the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "I don't think this will have any impact on self-service cigarettes, provided the self-service cigarettes are in the line of sight of a clerk in a store," he said.
"In many cases, that already exists because retailers want to watch the product because it is a valuable product. From a self-service vs. non-self-service point of view, we believe that self service should be maintained, and we believe there should be supervision of the product. That is what we're proposing to do with this program."
Morgan said Philip Morris has always marketed strictly to adults.
"We are comfortable that when [children] reach the age to make adult decisions, they will decide to smoke or not to smoke based on their own judgment."
Morgan said that although the definition of a "minor" varies from state to state, Philip Morris uses the age of 21 as a guide in its merchandising programs.