Anti-smoking activists are calling on Iowa’s largest grocery chain to quit selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at stores that include pharmacies or health clinics.
The move would help Hy-Vee demonstrate its professed interest in customers’ health, the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance says. The group encouraged Hy-Vee to follow the lead of the national CVS drugstore chain, which pulled tobacco products from its stores earlier this year. However, smokers say that in case Hy-Vee stops selling tobacco, they will buy cigarettes online.
“Helping Iowans quit smoking takes community leadership. By Hy-Vee ending the sale of tobacco products, it would reduce the availability and marketing of tobacco products, accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use and ultimately help more Iowans quit smoking,” alliance President Christopher Squier said in a news release. Squier is a University of Iowa dentistry professor who studies oral cancers.
Hy-Vee spokeswoman Tara Deering-Hansen sent a statement to The Des Moines Register saying the chain doesn’t advertise tobacco products, but provided no indication it intends to stop selling them.
“For years now, health and wellness has been a major part of who Hy-Vee is, and our commitment shows through the numerous healthy offerings in our stores and the activities we support in communities,” Deering-Hansen wrote. “As a retailer, we offer consumers a variety of products; we do not believe it is our role to police their personal decisions. We actively try to encourage customers’ healthy choices by keeping tobacco products behind courtesy counters and excluding them from marketing. And in contrast, we visibly tout the convenient access to smoking cessation programs and products provided through our pharmacies and in-store dietitians and clinics.”
Deering-Hansen declined to say how much money Hy-Vee takes in from tobacco sales or what percentage of the company’s revenues come from those sales.
The anti-smoking group agreed that Hy-Vee has taken prominent roles in efforts to improve Iowans’ health. Those include the Healthiest State Initiative, whose president, Ric Jurgens, is Hy-Vee’s retired chief executive officer.