Small smoke shops in Bradenton may benefit from CVS tobacco ban

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 6, 2014 

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All CVS stores nationwide, including this one on U.S. 301 in downtown Bradenton, will stop selling tobacco products by October. MATT M. JOHNSON/BRADENTON HERALD

MJOHNSON@BRADENTON.COM Buy Photo

MANATEE -- Local smoke shops breathed a shallow sigh of happiness Wednesday when national retailer CVS announced its stores will no longer sell tobacco products as of October.

But with other big tobacco retailers remaining in the market, selling a pack of cigarettes may not get much easier.

CVS Caremark, the parent company of CVS Pharmacy, stated in a press release that it is getting out of the tobacco retail business because "stopping the sale of cigarettes and tobacco will make a significant difference in reducing the chronic illnesses associated with tobacco use."

The company estimates it will lose about $2 billion in revenue when it clears the last tobacco products from its shelves of 7,600 stores this fall. Bradenton is home to seven CVS stores.

Big regional and national competitors, including grocer Publix and Walgreens, remain in the retail tobacco business.

Small tobacco shops are looking to benefit as some smokers move from CVS to other suppliers.

"Our business should go up," said Brandy Toth, acting manager at Smokes, a loose-leaf tobacco seller that has been open for about a year on Manatee Avenue near downtown Bradenton.

Toth said former CVS cigarette customers in particular may look to loose tobacco as a less-costly alternative, since the state's $1.34-per-pack cigarette tax does not apply to loose tobacco.

Guy Cesta, owner of natural tobacco seller Cheap Tobacco in south Bradenton, said he found the news as shocking as it is welcome for his business.

"I'm thinking that's strong," he said. "I'm not sure how significant it's going to be. I would imagine it's not going to hurt."

Florida is not the toughest place to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in the nation. Its cigarette tax is the 27th highest in the nation, well behind New York's $4.35. And smokers in the state can still light up in a few public, indoor places, despite the state's Indoor Clean Air Act. Smoking is allowed in bars and at tobacconist shops.

Direct competitors with Rhode Island-based CVS had less to say about their futures in the tobacco business. Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said in a statement that Walgreens will make no immediate changes to how it sells and markets tobacco products at its stores.

Publix spokesman Brian West did not respond to a request to comment about that company's tobacco sales.

What remains to be seen is whether other national tobacco sellers will get out of the business. Cesta said that while he may or may not see a sales boost with CVS' withdrawal from the tobacco market, having Walgreens pull out as well would change the tobacco retail landscape.

"If other big companies did it, it would definitely help," he said.

CVS did not say whether it plans to sell e-cigarettes, a product that delivers nicotine in water vapor. A number of local tobacco shops do sell the devices, including Cheap Tobacco.

Local CVS managers were unable to comment on the company's move to remove tobacco products from its shelves. Michael DeAngelis, a spokesman for the company, said CVS employees are barred from speaking to the press.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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