WASHINGTON -- Tobacco products could be more difficult to purchase at supermarkets if a recently published rule is enacted by the Food and Drug Administration here.
According to a rule issued by President Clinton on Aug. 23, grocery store point-of-purchase tobacco advertising will be limited to black-and-white text only. Vending machines will be restricted to areas inaccessible to persons under 18 years of age. Self-service merchandising, such as on endcaps and front-end displays, will not be permitted; tobacco sales will be limited to face-to-face transactions whereby a store employee will hand the product directly to the purchaser.
The supermarket operators SN interviewed said they already make it a point not to sell tobacco products to minors.
"We fully support the minor position, and we're trying to do everything we can to keep from selling cigarettes to people underage," said Michael Rourke, senior vice president, communications and corporate affairs at A&P, Montvale, N.J.
Retailers would not comment on how tobacco sales might be affected, but Bob Lamb, buyer at John C. Groub Co., Seymour, Ind., said he expects tobacco products to be displayed and stored in a secure environment.
"We've been going into that process, but the [individual] packages are not under lock and key at this point. The cartons are, and probably someday we'll even have the packages under lock and key so customers will have to ask," said Lamb, who was interviewed by SN before the rule was issued.
Rourke said A&P is removing cigarette vending machines because minors could easily make purchases from them, and the machines were just too hard to place.
Other retailers who declined to comment referred SN to the Food Marketing Institute, Washington. FMI's Tobacco Sales Task Force evaluates and responds to current tobacco industry proposals that attempt to limit sales to minors.
The task force, comprising representatives from large-, medium- and smaller-sized retailers and chain drug store companies, issued the following statement: "The members of the Food Marketing Institute support reasonable efforts to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors under the age of 18, as outlined in this policy statement."
While FMI supports efforts to prevent sales to underage shoppers, it contends steps to prevent those sales have already been taken.
"Unfortunately, FDA appears to be unaware of, or is intentionally ignoring, the technology, training and educational programs that are now available to address this problem," Tim Hammonds, FMI's president and chief executive officer, wrote in a letter to the FDA.
Since the issuance of the rules, Philip Morris U.S.A, New York, stated it will continue to oppose the FDA's jurisdiction over tobacco products.
"Our opposition to the FDA's rule rests not with its stated goal of reducing underage tobacco use but with the FDA's spacious and arbitrary interpretation of federal law. The rule opens a Pandora's box of regulation that tramples on the Constitution and the rights of millions of adult Americans. We will stand by those adults who choose to smoke," Steven Parrish, senior vice president of corporate affairs, said in a press statement.
Tom Wenning, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va., said his organization took issue with the regulations because of the extra expense retailers will have to incur to reconfigure their stores if the rule goes into effect.
But the costs associated with the rule should not be overwhelming for retailers, according to Jim O'Hara, FDA spokesman. "Costs are borne by the industry. Those costs are expected to be minimal for most retailers," he said.
A report filed by the FDA states tobacco manufacturers and retailers would share the expense of relocating displays because this is the current business practice.
The rule, published on Aug. 28, gives retailers six months to change their tobacco sales and merchandising practices, according to O'Hara. Most of the other provisions will go into effect a year from publication, except for the sponsorship provisions, which will be enacted two years from publication, he added.