Philadelphia added a new move to its fight against smoking Tuesday, recognizing merchants for ending tobacco sales.
Seven business owners tell their end-of-tobacco-sales stories in a series of online videos posted by SmokeFree Philly, an antismoking project run by the city Department of Public Health. One said she chose to pull tobacco from her shelves after being a smoker herself, another after he developed emphysema that he believes came from secondhand smoke at his tavern.
"Ethically and morally, it just wasn't right for me to carry cigarettes," Donna Horger, owner and head pharmacist at Brooks Pharmacy on Torresdale Avenue in Tacony, said in an interview. "How can I, as a health-care provider promoting health, sell cigarettes?"
Horger said that tobacco sales brought little revenue to her independent pharmacy and that ending them nearly three years ago had no effect on her business. She said she believes it was the right decision for her customers, and she feels more at peace about what she sells.
Rosa's Pretzel Bakery near Fifth Street and Girard Avenue stopped selling cigarettes in the early 1980s. Frances Rosa, who owns the store with her husband, Herbert, said they abandoned tobacco because it was dangerous for them and their customers, especially the younger ones.
While the store lost some business, "we felt the greater good was much better than money in our pocket," Frances Rosa said.
Philadelphia has among the highest adult smoking rates of the nation's 10 biggest cities. At a City Hall news conference honoring the merchants, most of whom were not present, Mayor Nutter said that city initiatives had helped reduce the number of smokers by 50,000 since 2007, but that Philadelphia was still home to more than 3,000 tobacco sellers. The more businesses that sell tobacco, he said, the more children will be exposed to tobacco ads, making them more likely to smoke.
Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning for the health department, said the campaign aimed to recognize small businesses that have stopped selling tobacco, and use their stories to encourage others to follow suit.
Many factors influence tobacco use, Mallya said, including availability. Kids in communities with higher concentrations of tobacco sellers are more likely to start smoking, he said. People who recently quit are more likely to relapse or make impulse purchases if they see cigarettes at the store.
The city is urging people to patronize tobacco-free stores.
Health Commissioner James Buehler said at the news conference that interest in quitting has increased since a $2-per-pack tax increase to fund the public schools took effect two months ago.
The highest-profile merchant to end tobacco sales nationwide, earlier this year, was CVS Pharmacy, which is the subject of one of the videos at www.smokefreephilly.org.
"While it was fabulous when CVS decided to stop selling tobacco products, the decision by small businesses to stop selling tobacco speaks to our local values - these are local people saying that we do not want to sell a deadly product to our friends and neighbors," said Jennifer Ibrahim, an associate professor of public health at Temple University.
Starting Jan. 1, the city will partner with CVS Caremark to launch the "Preferred Health Network," offering lower co-pays at tobacco-free pharmacies for city employees. Prescriptions bought outside the network will cost $15 more. The network will include both small, independent pharmacies and larger chains like CVS - as long as they have given up tobacco.