Philly tobacco sellers say stores worth a lot less without cigarette permits

    Second Street Smoke Shope

    Second Street Smoke Shope

    Store owners who sell cigarettes in Philadelphia say they’ll stand together Monday and oppose planned tobacco-sales regulations for the city.

    There’s a public hearing Monday.

    “I’m going to be there on Monday,” said Alan Karpo, owner of the Second Street Smoke Shop in Old City. “But I’m already extremely frustrated.”

    The city Board of Health has provisionally approved regulations that limit the number of retailers to 1 per 1,000 residents within each city planning district. The rules would also ban new tobacco retailers within 500 feet of a school.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    If your corner store is near a school, you get to keep selling cigarettes at the same location. Existing retailers will be “grandfathered in” under the new rules, but when a business owner wants to sell that store, Philadelphia will not renew the tobacco-sales permit.

    Thomas Briant spokesman for the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) says the change would suddenly lower the value of many businesses.

    “About 40 percent of in-store sales for an average convenience store are made up of tobacco products, so you are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars per year,” Briant said.

    Karpo — the smoke shop owner in Old City — says 90 percent of his sales are from cigarettes.

    “If this law gets passed, and I try to sell my business my business has no value,” he said.

    Karpo says his shop is not near a school but Philadelphia’s planned limit on the number of stores in a neighborhood could keep a future owner from getting a tobacco license.

    Karpo says city officials have an honorable goal: “I’m 61 years old, I don’t smoke. I have a son who’s 33, he smokes, and that’s upset me from the day I found out about it.”

    But Karpo says there are other ways to keep teens away from smoking.

    “If you want to put a point-of-sale sign in every retailer, do it, say ‘smoking is bad,'” he said.

    The new rules could keep minors from experimenting with cigarettes, city official say.

    Mayor James Kenney held a meeting to support the changes this week. In a written statement, he said tobacco products kill more than 2,000 Philadelphians each year.

    “The people most likely to become ill or die from tobacco use are in low-income communities of color. These are the communities disproportionately targeted by Big Tobacco in their search for new customers and bigger profits,” Kenney said the press statement.

    “Children on their way to school should not be bombarded with advertisements enticing them to start smoking,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in the statement.

    Many tobacco retailers are paid money to post branded signs in their storefront windows, and they often list their lowest-priced cigarettes outside the store.

    To really keep young people from buying cigarettes, Philadelphia should better police the retailers who sell to kids, said Tom Briant from NATO.

    “What resources is the Philadelphia Board of Health putting forth to enforce the current law, rather than adopt these new regulations, which could be severely and economically damaging to law-abiding retailers?” Briant said.

    Alan Karpo has owned his business for 27 years and says he has supported a family and sent his kids to college with those earnings.

    Karp says his sales plummeted in 2014, when Philadelphia added a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes. That move was designed to fund city schools. Soon after, Karpo says he had to fire an employee who had worked for him for 12 years.

    “They [city officials] are not taking into consideration there are people affected by this, good people,” Karpo said.

    Bhagwant Bhatti’s store in Port Richmond Philadelphia sells cigarettes, but he’s not sure how long he can survive within the city limits.

    Bhatti said Philadelphia tobacco retailers feel like second-class citizens ever since the city passed the 2014 cigarette tax hike.

    The playing field should be level across the state, Bhatti said, but Philadelphia retailers are “discriminated against,” he said.

    The proposed regulations — being considered at the public hearing Monday — would also ban the city from issuing or renewing a retail permit for any business that violates the youth sales law three times within 24 months.

    The state penalty for a similar infraction could cost a storeowner $1,000 to $3,000, said Darryl Jayson, vice president of the Tobacco Merchants Association a “non-profit, non-lobbying” group.

    “But there’s no license revocation, unlike the Philadelphia regulation.”

    The association does not take any stance on government policy, but tracks the industry and educates its members.

    “There are some municipalities that have regulations like this but not for a city as large as Philadelphia,” Jayson said.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal