CVS announcement sets precedent for tobacco industry

In most of the nation’s pharmacies, there is a disturbing paradox with shelves full of health care products on one side and tobacco products on the other. Yesterday, CVS made a bold gamble to remedy this incongruity, resolving to abandon tobacco sales by Oct. 1. This decision seems to be already paying dividends. President Barack Obama hailed the announcement as a “a powerful example … ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.” CVS’s bottomline may report a drop in profits for the initial first quarter, but they will make up for it with an already visible increase in positive publicity and a clear distinction from other rival pharmacies who still sell tobacco products, the nation’s most dangerous public health concern.

CVS made a historic first step, but there are still plenty of other retailers who stock cigarettes, including Walgreens, Duane Reade, Walmart, and Rite-Aid. CVS’s decision captured the public sentiment where smoking is increasingly seen as a socially unacceptable practice. New Yorkers are already not allowed to smoke in outdoor public spaces. It would be a logical next step for City Hall to pass legislation to ban cigarettes from all pharmacies and similar outlets.

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it will launch a $115 million ad campaign on Feb. 11 aimed at teens between the ages of 12 and 17 — 90 percent of smokers pick up the habit before they turn 18. In 2011 in the United States, almost 44 million adults smoked, a figure which does not include the young adult population. Although it is unlikely that the CVS decision will discourage anybody from smoking, if the action taken yesterday encourages other pharmacies to echo CVS, it may result in a positive shift in consumer habits.

Yesterday’s announcement is a promising beginning. The reduction in availability combined with vast media campaigns from the FDA, Legacy Foundation for Health and the Center for Disease Control may make 2014 the year that cigarette usage finally drops among U.S. users. CVS made the first step to prove that cigarettes should not be an expected commodity and certainly should not be sold alongside health products. Other companies must now quickly follow suit or be at the risk of appearing to trivialize the fatal effects of cigarette smoking. The tobacco industry, the largest killer in the United States, takes the lives of 480,000 Americans per year — the same customers the pharmacies claim to be helping.

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