A group of 28 U.S. attorneys general, including New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster, has urged Wal-Mart and four other big retailers to stop selling tobacco products, saying they should not be available in stores that provide health care services.
The group sent a letter on Sunday to chief executive officers of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, supermarket operators Kroger Co, Safeway Inc, which operate pharmacies, and drugstore chains Walgreen Co. and Rite Aid Corp.
"Bluntly, smoking kills. We know this," Foster said on Monday. He said the attorneys general took the step because of their long relationship with tobacco companies, including a settlement that meant millions for states to recover health care services provided to smokers.
Foster said the letter contains no threat of lawsuit, and he had not given thought to writing to smaller retailers, such as New England supermarkets that have on-site pharmacies.
"Hopefully, it will start a trend," he said of the attorneys general action.
Wal-Mart, Walgreen, Rite Aid and Kroger all said they were reviewing the letter, while Safeway did not respond to requests for comment.
Schneider and Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewiness led a group of 28 states and territories, including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Puerto Rico and Guam calling for the change.
"Pharmacies and drug stores, which increasingly market themselves as a source for community health care, send a mixed message by continuing to sell deadly tobacco products," New York Attorney General Eric Schneider man said in a statement on Monday.
Last month, CVS Caremark Corp, which runs the No. 2 U.S. drugstore chain after Walgreen, said it would stop selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores by Oct. 1, making it the first national drugstore chain in the United States to take cigarettes off the shelves.
The letter from the attorneys general did not mention electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes, which some politicians and scientists say could be a gateway to smoking, generated sales of nearly $2 billion last year and are growing in popularity.
U.S. cigarette sales totaled $91.5 billion last year, according to Euromonitor International.
Wal-Mart, Walgreen, Kroger and Rite Aid all sell e-cigarettes. CVS does not.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered cartridges that look like cigarettes and contain a nicotine liquid that, when heated, creates an inhalable vapor. This vapor, advocates say, is less dangerous than traditional cigarette smoke since it does not contain lung-damaging tar.
Los Angeles City Council this month voted to ban the use of e-cigarettes from restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other public spaces, joining a growing list of cities, including New York, Boston and Chicago, that restrict the use of e-cigarettes.