ST. LOUIS – St. Louis’ largest supermarket chain will stop selling tobacco products in all its stores at the beginning of 2020. Schnucks Markets announced Thursday, “the company will end the sale of all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, chewing tobacco and snuff.” Jan. 1 is the day the tobacco shelves will be emptied.
The company says the period between now and the new year will be used to unload the current backlog of product that’s already in warehouses and stores. The company says it will also double rewards points issued on the purchase of any product designed to help a smoker quit the habit.
Why now? The family whose name is on the building says it can’t claim a mission of health and wellness, and sell something deadly at the same time.
“Tobacco products are certainly a profitable part of our business, but our company’s mission is to nourish people’s lives,” Schnucks Chairman & CEO Todd Schnuck said in a statement issued by the grocery chain. “Tobacco products directly contradict our core mission, and that means that they simply don’t belong in our stores.
“We respect people’s right to make decisions that are best for them, and while we know this may not sit well with everyone, we believe it’s the right thing to do for the health of our communities and our customers, and that makes it the right decision for our company.”
Schnucks is hardly breaking new ground in making the move. The first major retailer to stop selling cigarettes was Target, way back in 1996. CVS Pharmacies gave up the habit five years ago, in 2014. Other chains, such as Walgreens and Walmart, still sell cigarettes but voluntarily raised the minimum age of purchase to 21.
Robin Koval, CEO of anti-tobacco nonprofit Truth Initiative, applauded the move by Schnucks.
“We know that when tobacco is easily accessed, easily available, when young people see it in the store, that all contributes to making it seem acceptable and normal for young people,” Koval said. “So these kinds of moves are important.”
Schnucks said removing tobacco was part of a broader effort to focus on wellness and promote healthier choices for customers. Other efforts include a partnership with workout centers to encourage physical activity and the launching of a program that teaches life skills and health habits to children. The store’s app also allows customers to view nutritional information.
Missouri, where the majority of Schnucks stores are situated, has one of the nation’s highest smoking rates – about 21 percent among adults. Missouri also has the nation’s lowest tobacco tax rates, 17 cents per pack of cigarettes.
MetroSTL.com attempted to reach St. Louis’ other large, locally owned chain, Dierbergs, but was unable to reach a spokesperson by the time this article was published.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.