Walmart To Stop Selling Cigarettes in Some of Its Florida Stores – What About Freedom of Choice for Consumers?

Toby Hazlewood

A move intended to 'protect customers'?

In a move that's likely been coming for some time, it emerged on March 28 that Walmart will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products in many of its stores in Florida. The retail group will also stop selling cigarettes so widely in stores in Arkansas, California and New Mexico too.

The decision is likely driven by Walmart's chief executive Doug McMillon who is on a mission to get rid of tobacco products as Walmart increases its investment in healthcare services. But there are concerns amongst some top Walmart executives that there may be a backlash from customers in Florida who resent having their choices made for them.

Walmart catching up?

Until now, Walmart appeared to be clinging on to its mission to be the retailer of choice for the mass-market. It carried on selling cigarettes in its stores long after Target and CVS stopped selling them in 1996 and 2014 respectively.

As Walmart redesigns more of its stores to use self check-outs, it's also less practical to offer restricted products like tobacco to customers as they pay for their other goods.

Two years after Walmart stopped selling e-cigarettes

Ironically, Walmart stopped selling e-cigarettes and associated vaping products two years ago after an increased instance of lung conditions that were attributed to vaping. And yet, tobacco has remained on sale until now, even with the proven links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

According to statistics from America's Health Rankings in 2020, Florida actually has slightly lower rates of smoking than the U.S. as a whole - Just 14.7% of adults in the state smoke, compared to a U.S. average of 15.5%. West Virginia is the unhealthiest state in terms of smoking, at 22.6%.

Why Walmart has chosen to pilot its new scheme in Florida (amongst other states) remains unclear, but the announcement seems to have spooked the stock markets. Stocks in Altria Group were down by 3.5%, British American Tobacco down 1.6% and Phillip Morris International down 2.2% following Walmart's announcement.

Do you think Walmart is right to remove cigarettes from some of its Florida stores? Do you think it should be down to the individual to choose? Let me know in the comments section below.

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