BOISE -- Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden wants businesses like Walgreens and Walmart to stop selling tobacco products. And, he's not alone. But some say this is an interference in the marketplace.
Wasden says as an attorney general, he has a stick and a carrot. The stick is proverbially used to bring lawsuits, or interfere in the marketplace. He says, in this instance though, he's using the proverbial carrot, congratulating those who don't sell tobacco.
Wasden is among 28 attorneys general from across the nation to send a letter to Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Safeway and Kroger, which runs Fred Meyer, urging all of them to stop selling tobacco products. Wasden says it's important to the state's youth. Ninety percent of the people who smoke started before they were 18 years-old.
The attorneys general say they're trying to protect the public, just like they did in the 1990s when AGs sued tobacco companies for the harm their products caused.
Tobacco causes 480,000 premature deaths annually, said Wasden. That's a huge number. And, if we can keep kids from starting in tobacco, we have tremendous public health benefits.
How do tobacco users feel about this? We've heard from some who say it's none of these attorneys' general business, and that people who use tobacco will just get tobacco somewhere else, if this happens.
Others critics say this could stand in the way of personal liberty or the free market by telling these stores what they should be selling. Wasden says though that's not what they're doing. We're not threatening litigation. We're not trying to interfere in the marketplace. What we're trying to do is use our bully pulpit to congratulate good behavior in the marketplace.
Those congratulations came in the form of another letter from these attorneys general to CVS, which last month announced it would stop selling tobacco products. That's despite the fact that they say it would cost them $2 billion in annual sales.
It's a great day for public health that CVS would cease selling products that were really counter to their whole attempt to improve people's health, said Wasden.
Both Walgreens and Walmart say they received the letter and are reviewing it.
Coming up on this weekend's Viewpoint, our Jamie Grey sits down with Lawrence Wasden and talks more about this issue, along with numerous other issues he's handling. It airs at 9 a.m. Sunday.