Retailers estimate the industry could lose $82 million per year in sales for every square foot of counter space taken up by the signs. The public health groups, however, said that would average out to only about 65 cents per day per retailer, according to court filings.
"If the government and the legal system wants to do something to the tobacco companies, do it to the tobacco companies," said Larry Southard, who opened Papa's Healthy Food & Fuel in western Massachusetts in 2004. "I don't know why they'd take it to that level when there are so many laws in place, there's so much information (about the health impacts of smoking) already, what is the purpose? To punish the retailer now?"
Fifty-six-year-old Southard, who smoked from around 16 until his mid-20s, didn't want to sell cigarettes his upscale convenience store but reluctantly decided to stock them under the counter when he realized customers were going down the street to pick up their smokes.
"The customers want them. ... It is unfortunately a part of the American culture," Southard said.
In their court filings on the issue, the tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, owned by Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Reynolds American Inc., and Newport cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., said the retailer requirements would vary by store that they wouldn't be workable or fair.
Customers also could forgo profitable impulse items like candy or gum by the register, if the displays rub them the wrong way, retailers argue.
"If you walk in someplace and you all of the sudden don't feel as good as you did a minute earlier, you're going to buy less. And we're not talking about tobacco," said Jeff Lenard of the convenience store association. "We're talking about a drink, we're talking about a sandwich."
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum .