In response to a growing campaign against the availability of drug paraphernalia, two of Washington's largest chain stores -- Drug Fair and Peoples Drug Stores -- announced yesterday that they have stopped selling cigarette rolling papers.
"After a lot or moral agony, we realized it wasn't a responsible thing for business to be engaged in," said Drug Fair spokesman Paul Forbes.
Drug Fair, which has been offering rolling papers for tobacco smokers since the 1930s, no longer will carry the item, which is primarily used today for smoking marijuana. "We have our own conscience to live with," Forbes said, explaining that the sale of rolling papers -- although not against the law -- may contribute to an illegal act.
The chain has removed cigarette papers from all of in stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
A spokesman for Peoples said their company also had decided to stop the sale of cigarette papers, following the recent decision of 7-Eleven food stores, which also have eliminated the item from their shelves.
"We agonized over if for a year," said Peoples marketing vice president David Eisenberg. "I think the decision was right."
For the first time in 75 years, over 400 Peoples Drug Stores in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, Atlanta and Ohio no longer will stock the 25-cent packets of Bull Durham and Zig-Zag cigarette papers, perennial favorites of the roll-your-own generation. "I hope the older community will understand," said Eisenberg, "but whatever we were selling was being abused."
According to Eisenberg, Peoples decided that cigarette papers were something they could live without.
"Will it deter marijuana smoking?" said Eisenberg. "Who knows? We think we did the right thing."
Both chain stores, which last year stocked the cigarette papers under the counter with other items such as airplane glue, said the cigarette paper business was low volume. The stores said yesterday they stocked only two or three brands, which sold for 25 to 35 cents each.
Yesterday's announcements came two weeks after Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and County Council President Neal Potter sent a joint statement to 21 area businesses, urging them to stop selling drug paraphernalia in the county. These officials, and a growing legion of local and national politicians, say the items often are mistaken for toys and encourage the user of drugs among teen-agers.
Legislation to outlaw the sale or possession of drug paraphernalia in Maryland, the so-called "bong bill," is scheduled to be taken by the General Assembly in early January. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Margaret Schweinhaut, was initiated by the antidrug efforts of two Montgomery County women, Joyce Nalepka of Silver Spring and Jill Gerstenfield of Rockville, both mothers of school-aged children.
A similar measure has been introduced in Congress by Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.
"I can't imagine how you could stop selling cigarette papers," said Larry Schott, national director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "The whole idea is unconstitutional."
Schott said that the effort to remove cigarette rolling papers from stores will not deter marijuana smoking among the young. "They're attacking it the wrong way. I would ask them to try to get better drug education in the schools and have children communicating with their families," Schott said.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 44 million Americans have tried marijuana and 16 million are regular users of the drugs. "It doesn't show any signs of abating," said Schott yesterday. "If people want to smoke marijuana they're going to smoke it. I can't see that stopping the sale of cigarette papers will have any great effect. Besides, the fact of the matter is there are still some people who use cigarette papers to roll cigarettes."
Saying that Drug Fair did not want to become "the moral conscience of the community," Forbes nevertheless feels that cigarette papers in a drug store are "not in the best interests of health." Asked what they would tell their tobacco rolling customers, Forbes said, "We'll have to wait and see what the public response is."