Walmart snatches cigarettes from some stores

The Marlboro Man is missing from some Walmart stores — and tobacco stocks are swooning as a result.

The retail giant has been secretly pulling cigarettes from its shelves at some stores in Arkansas, California, Florida and New Mexico, with Chief Executive Doug McMillon pushing ahead with its mission to get rid of tobacco products while Walmart increases its investment in healthcare services.

Tobacco stocks reacted immediately, with Altria Group shares down 3.5% Monday morning, British American Tobacco down 1.6% and Phillip Morris International down 2.2%.

It’s not clear why stores in these states in particular have targeted their cigarette removal or how many stores are affected. A source close to the matter says it is a deal-by-store decision. And not everyone at the retailer in Bentonville, Ark. agrees with McMillon’s position.

Some top Walmart executives say Walmart is in business selling products its customers want — without restricting their choices, even if they have bad health consequences, according to the report.

Target stopped selling cigarettes in 1996, while CVS Health Corp. Quit in 2014, arguing that the tobacco didn’t align with his goals as a healthcare provider.

Retail shelves stocked with cigarette packs.
Walmart stopped selling e-cigarettes and vaping products in 2019.
Universal Images Group via Getty

Walmart considered stopping cigarette sales after CVS’s announcement, but decided the sale was “consistent with the retailer’s brand because it caters to the mass market,” according to a 2019 New York Times report.

But the company ripped e-cigarettes and vape products off its shelves in 2019 and raised the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.

McMillon has reportedly quietly advocated getting rid of all tobacco products, according to the Journal report. And in 2018, many stores in Sam’s Club — Walmart’s warehouse chain — stopped selling tobacco products.

Still, cigarette sales rose after years of decline during the pandemic.

Walmart has also installed more self-checkout stations in recent years, making it more problematic for store associates to get cigarettes from behind locked counters for those customers who use self-checkout, sources told The Wall Street Journal.

A Walmart store with a shopper pushing a shopping cart outside.
Cigarette sales rose during the pandemic after years of decline.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

According to The Journal, the company is “more efficient” in using space in stores where it has removed cigarettes.

On removing smoke from certain stores, a Walmart spokeswoman said, “We’re always looking for ways to meet our customers’ needs while running an efficient store. As a result of our continued focus on the tobacco category, we have made the business decision to discontinue the sale of tobacco in select stores.” Walmart snatches cigarettes from some stores


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