Walmart is kicking butts out of select stores.
The retailer will end the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in some stores in California, Florida, Arkansas and New Mexico, The Wall Street Journal reports. The exact number of stores impacted by the action is unknown.
Walmart’s decision comes after a lengthy debate at the company about cigarettes. Beyond the health factors, smokes generally aren’t as profitable as other impulse items that stores can put near registers, such as candy bars, drinks and snacks.
Walmart has been increasing is footprint in the healthcare space for some time, which could have spurred the action. The retailer is already the fifth-largest provider of pharmacy services, but it also wants to leverage its shopper traffic to sell customers health care services such as urgent care, X-rays, dental cleanings, and blood work at low prices, at a time when millions of Americans have lost their benefits and health care costs are out of control.
Selling tobacco alongside that would be a conflict, many company officials believe.
A Walmart spokesperson, however, tells the Journal that the company does not plan to halt all tobacco sales.
Walmart competitor Target did away with tobacco sales in 1996. And CVS (which competes with Walmart in its operation of in-store clinics) stopped tobacco sales in 2014.
The cessation of cigarette sales can have a big impact on public health. In the eight months following CVS’s ban, the company says that in states where the company had a 15% or greater share of the retail pharmacy market, the average smoker purchased five fewer cigarette packs and, in total, approximately 95 million fewer packs were sold.
Given Walmart’s larger customer base and footprint, the impact could be even wider, disrupting the cigarette market, which saw sales of $95 billion last year, the majority of which took place in gas stations and convenience stores.
Walmart doesn’t sell tobacco in New York and parts of Massachusetts, as local laws prohibit locations with retail pharmacies to sell tobacco. At Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, less than 40 of its roughly 600 U.S. stores currently sell tobacco products.
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