SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Hannaford Supermarkets is working to establish lower-profile tobacco sets in its 45 New York locations, SN has learned.
The retailer will adapt its approach to help shield impressionable youth from messages that glamorize smoking and other tobacco use.
“We don't want children exposed to tobacco advertising,” Hannaford spokesman Matt Paul told SN.
Presently, 24 of Hannaford's New York stores sell tobacco products from a kiosk positioned near the checkout area. The remainder merchandise the category from a more covert location behind the customer service counter.
In August, three of Hannaford's New York stores equipped with kiosks were fitted with semi-opaque acrylic glass walls designed to obscure children's view of the products sold within, according to Rebecca Guarino, director of the Project Action Tobacco-Free Coalition, an Amsterdam, N.Y.-based group that works to systematically reduce tobacco use in New York state.
Its first course of action is to convince supermarkets to stop selling tobacco products. If they're not receptive, the coalition encourages them to obscure tobacco logos and advertising for the benefit of young people — a group at high risk of becoming so-called “replacement smokers.”
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., began muting messages communicated from its tobacco centers at the urging of Project Action in 2007.
Today, the doors of all of its tobacco centers in New York state, and some located in other operating areas, are lined with double-thick opaque filters.
Price Chopper did not receive any funding from Project Action. Rather, it paid for the tobacco center alterations itself.
In the years since making the change, tobacco sales have suffered, said spokeswoman Mona Golub, who attributes the drop to a number of factors including higher taxes. In making its decision to do away with promotional materials, the retailer also forfeited promotional allowances from its trading partners. Price Chopper raised the price of its tobacco products as a result, Golub told SN earlier this year.
Though the category isn't as profitable as it once was, the chain holds fast to its commitment.
“Price Chopper wishes not to be responsible for enticing a next generation of smokers,” noted Golub.
Intercepting tobacco advertisements is an effective strategy since promotional messages make a bigger impression on young people than other influencers, according to Guarino.
“Studies have shown that tobacco marketing affects kids even more than peer pressure or parental smoking,” she said.
Her observations come at a time when the Food and Drug Administration is preparing for bolder and more visible warnings on cigarette packs and advertising.
Earlier this month, the FDA began soliciting comments about the specific statements and graphic images that should be used to warn consumers about the negative consequences of smoking. The Tobacco Control Act requires that the warnings be highly visible, appearing on at least 50% of the front and rear panels of cigarette packs and in at least 20% of every cigarette advertisement. The changes will take effect by fall 2012.
Though messages will take on a more serious tone, Hannaford will continue to merchandise cigarettes in a less conspicuous way, with changes rolling out to stores as they're remodeled.
“Our customers who are looking for tobacco products will be able to get what they need, but we don't want [ads] splashed across the store,” noted Paul.
Results from an online SN Quick Poll reveal that similar steps may be taken by other chains once images on cigarette packages become more graphic.
When asked: “Will bolder warning labels on cigarette packs and advertising change the way you merchandise the category?” 18% of respondents said “yes, we want to be viewed as a health and wellness destination”; 62%, “no, we'll continue to sell cigarettes the same way we always have”; and 18%, “maybe, it depends on the specific images and warning statements required by the FDA.”