Walgreens Testing Tobacco-Free Stores

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DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. is testing tobacco-free stores in the United States, but does not intend to remove tobacco from all locations.

Tobacco-free test stores include one location near its headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., as well as 17 in Gainesville, Fla., which are part of a 12- to 18-month pilot program that began in 2018, reported the Wall-Street Journal.

Other cigarette-free locations are in New York City, San Francisco and Massachusetts, which banned pharmacies from selling them. The company's Boots pharmacies outside of North America do not sell tobacco products.

"The safety of our patients is very important, but we also have to do what our customers are requiring us to do," stated Walgreens Boots CEO Stefano Pessina. "We see that when we don't sell tobacco, we have a lot of [negative] reactions."

Although it still offers tobacco products in the majority of its 9,600 U.S. stores, Walgreens is trying to help smokers quit by making smoking cessation products widely available, Pessina added. The company encourages employees to direct customers looking for cigarettes to smoking cessation products and has reduced the visibility of tobacco products at some locations.

"Our objective is to convince people not to smoke, so we give them a cigarette and we ask them whether they want to stop smoking," Pessina said.

Anti-tobacco advocates and some shareholders have pushed for Walgreens to discontinue tobacco sales, arguing that tobacco products don't belong in pharmacies or that selling tobacco puts investor money at risk due to threat of lawsuit. 

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration named Walgreens as a repeat seller of tobacco products to minors in February, according to the report.

Walgreens leadership stated that tobacco sales offer customer choice, but the company intends to see how customers respond in the Gainesville test market to determine how it can lessen its reliance on tobacco products. The chain's tobacco sales are decreasing, according to Pessina.