WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Canada Safeway's attempt to prevent teenagers from buying cigarettes backfired at most of its 27 supermarkets here.
Last month, Safeway's Canadian headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, ordered its 200 outlets between Winnipeg and Vancouver to move tobacco products from behind cash registers to customer-service booths.
Management believed that older service-desk personnel would be less reluctant than younger cashiers to demand proof of age. Under Safeway policy, anyone who "appears" to be under age 25 will be asked to show identification before purchasing tobacco products.
But hundreds of smokers complained about the move, saying it was inconvenient to wait on two separate lines -- one for groceries and one for cigarettes.
As a result, Safeway moved the cigarettes back behind the cash register in most Winnipeg Safeway stores. So far, customer opposition appears confined to Winnipeg.
John Graham, Safeway spokesman here, said more than 30% of the chain's customers are smokers and their complaints about long lines had to be addressed.
Further, the customer-service booths are staffed by one employee and aren't equipped to handle the heavy stream of tobacco customers, Graham said.
Like Safeway Canada, U.S. retailers are taking steps to prevent teenagers from buying cigarettes.
In preparation for a federal crackdown on cigarette sales, which could mandate that stores keep cigarettes out of customers' reach, many retailers are changing their merchandising programs.
As reported in SN, Woodman's Food Markets, Janesville, Wis., in a one-store test, moved tobacco out of grocery and into its liquor department, which has a separate cash register. After three months, sales of tobacco products dropped 30%.