Editorial: CVS becomes healthier, bans the sale of tobacco products

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Editorial: CVS becomes healthier, bans the sale of tobacco products

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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CVS Caremark, the popular drug store chain, has made headlines this week for taking steps to increase the health of its clientele. On Wednesday, CVS announced that it would be putting a stop to their sale of tobacco products by Oct. 1 of this year in an effort to focus more on promoting health to its customers.

The second-largest drugstore chain, with more than 7,500 drugstores — two of which are rather close to Pitt’s campus — will begin phasing out tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco in order to get back into the business of promoting wellness.

By ending sales of tobacco, CVS is pressuring other drug store chains to reevaluate the products they sell, as well. If CVS, currently one of the largest chains in the United States, has been able to implement such positive measures, other drugstores should work to further promote wellness by discontinuing tobacco sales.

Pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens have a duty to promote the well-being of their customers, especially since they provide pharmaceutical supplies and clinical services, and selling tobacco undermines that aspect of the business. 

“Selling tobacco is very inconsistent with being in that business,” Helena Foulkes, CVS’s president, said in an interview with USA Today. “We really thought about this decision as it relates to the future as a health company — it’s good for customers and our company, in the long run.”

Foulkes told USA Today that CVS is beginning to realign with its pharmaceutical and clinical roots though its network of 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners working with people to combat high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

While CVS sells $1.5 billion worth of tobacco products yearly and will lose approximately $2 billion in sales, the move has been lauded by President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

President Obama noted in a statement Wednesday that, “As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today’s decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs.”

Rite Aid, the third-largest drugstore chain in America — with two of its more than 4,600 stores located in Oakland — hasn’t made a definitive move to ban tobacco products as of yet. While the drugstore sells tobacco products, they also serve as a pharmacy, providing services to combat smoking.

“Rite Aid offers a wide range of products, including tobacco products, which are available for purchase in accordance with federal, state and local laws. Additionally, Rite Aid also sells a variety of smoking cessation products and provides additional resources, including our pharmacists, who are available to counsel people trying to stop smoking,” said Rite Aid, in a statement regarding CVS’s recent move.

Walgreens, the nation’s largest drug store chain, with more than 8,000 stores, has also yet to produce a substantial move to ban the sale of tobacco products.

“We have been evaluating this product category for some time to balance the choices our customers expect from us with their ongoing health needs,” a statement from Walgreens said Wednesday morning. “We will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want, while also helping to educate them and providing smoking cessation products and alternatives that help to reduce the demand for tobacco products.”

While CVS is the first major drugstore chain to prohibit the sale of tobacco products, it certainly shouldn’t be the last. Drugstores such as CVS have a significant role in providing the greater community with crucial pharmaceutical services that better the public health status of the nation.

When drugstores promote healthy living, providing doctors and medicine for individuals who need them, it is troubling to think they also advertise products that harm, rather than heal, individuals. Of course, many other marketplaces mimic similar practices, but with drugstores, places generally prescribed to rehabilitate and help their customers in terms of overall health, the sale of tobacco products is somewhat contradictory.

“Stopping the sale of cigarettes and tobacco will make a significant difference in reducing the chronic illnesses associated with tobacco use,” noted CVS Caremark Chief Medical Officer Troyen Brennan in a CVS statement yesterday.

CVS’ move should be applauded because it’s a move to become a provider for the betterment of its customers, as opposed to the betterment of its shareholders. The move to ban tobacco products should transcend CVS and be implemented by more drugstore branches, namely Rite Aid and Walgreens. 

As the top three leading drugstores, they have a responsibility to set an example for other pharmacies, and with CVS leading the pack, others should follow suit.

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