Anti-smoking groups are praising Wegmans Food Markets and DeCicco Markets for discontinuing the sale of tobacco products at their stores.

The American Lung Association of New York State presented Wegmans with the Lung Champion Award to recognize the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocers January 2008 decision to stop the sale of such items at all 70 of its locations, which are in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.

The American Lung Association of New York State commends Wegmans for its leadership in removing cigarettes from store shelves and putting the public health of its employees and customers above profits, said Deborah Carioto, president of the organization. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in this country, and with the single act of halting tobacco sales in its stores, Wegmans has set what I hope will be a trend among major retailers in this country.

Besides banning the sale of tobacco products, Wegmans now offers a quit-smoking program for its employees. It said 550 are currently enrolled.

Wegmans believes that the many young people who work in our stores will be affected by the message the company they work for is willing to give up profits out of concern for their health, said Wegmans vice president Mary Ellen Burris.

Pelham, N.Y.-based DeCicco Markets, with locations in both Westchester and Rockland counties, stopped selling tobacco products at five of its six grocery stores in February. The sixth location, which opened in Ardsley, N.Y. last year, has never carried tobacco products.

DeCicco was honored at the sixth annual No Thanks, Big Tobacco appreciation event sponsored by the Elmsford, N.Y.-based Tobacco Control Partners of the Lower Hudson Valley.

Other grocers that have recently stopped carrying cigarettes include six New Jersey ShopRites operated by ShopRites of Cherry Hill, Budwey Supermarket stores in upstate New York, and Andronicos in Albany, Calif., Progressive Grocer reported.

State tax

New York State is also giving smokers a powerful incentive to quit: a $1.25 per pack increase in the state cigarette tax. The increase, the largest ever enacted, becomes effective tomorrow.

"According to our New York State Department of Health, this tax increase will prevent approximately 243,000 children alive today from becoming smokers in the future, and will motivate about 140,000 adult smokers to quit for good, said Rachel Iverson, associate director of the Tobacco Control Program at the New York State Department of Health.