Putting pressure on tobacco retailers

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 file photo, Marlboro cigarettes are on display in a CVS store in Pittsburgh. The nation's second-largest drugstore chain says it will phase out cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco by Oct. 1 as it continues to focus more on health care. The move will cost the Woonsocket, R.I., company about $2 billion in annual revenue. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Last month's announcement by CVS/Pharmacy that it would “stop selling cigarettes and all tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores nationwide by October 1, 2014” has focused attention on the role that retail outlets play in their sale. If other major retailers were to follow CVS/Pharmacy’s lead, perhaps we could push already declining rates of tobacco use even lower (currently, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans smoke cigarettes).

In the wake of the CVS move, to put pressure on other tobacco-selling retailers, 26 prominent health groups have issued an open letter, calling on drug stores and other retailers to stop selling tobacco products. Recent studies have shown that reasons for the voluntary abandonment of tobacco sales are complex: retailers identified the obvious relationship between tobacco use and disease and death, regulatory pressures, an enhanced image, and already declining tobacco sales among the drivers of change. In their 2011 study published in BMC Public Health, Patricia McDaniel and Ruth Malone, highlight the importance of such changes, writing that “voluntary retailer abandonment of tobacco sales both reflects and extends social norm changes that have problematized tobacco…”

Let’s hope that ongoing pressure on tobacco-selling retailers can continue to transform social norms around tobacco’s sale and use.

The full letter and signatories – among them the American Public Health Association, of which I am a member – is below:

Open Letter to America’s Retailers, Especially Those with Pharmacies, From Leading Public Health and Medical Organizations February 26, 2014

As organizations committed to ending the tobacco epidemic in the United States, we applaud the bold decision by CVS Caremark to eliminate the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in all its stores.  We urge other retailers, especially those with pharmacies, to move quickly to end tobacco sales in their stores.  CVS Caremark is absolutely right:  The sale of tobacco products – the number one cause of preventable death and disease – is fundamentally inconsistent with a commitment to improving health.

As we observe the 50th Anniversary of the landmark 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, the science on tobacco is unequivocal and inescapable.  Tobacco products are uniquely lethal and addictive.  They rob us of 480,000 American lives each year, sicken millions more and cost the nation at least $289 billion annually in healthcare expenses and other economic losses.

The latest Surgeon General’s report also underscored that tobacco use is a pediatric epidemic – 90 percent of adult smokers start by age 18 or earlier, and 5.6 million children alive today will die prematurely of smoking-caused disease unless all segments of our society join together to take strong action.

No corporation truly devoted to saving lives – like the nation’s pharmacies are – can continue to simultaneously reap billions in profits from products that kill nearly half of the people who use them.  Neither can any corporation committed to the well-being of our nation’s children.

CVS Caremark’s decision was met with cheers from their customers and the public at large because it is simply the right thing to do.  We urge other retailers, especially those with pharmacies, to put our nation’s children and health before tobacco profits and move quickly to end tobacco sales.  Such action would reduce the availability and marketing of tobacco products, accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use and ultimately help end the tobacco epidemic for good.

American Association for Respiratory Care

American Association for Cancer Research

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
American Academy of Pediatrics

American College of Cardiology

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

American Lung Association

American Public Health Association

American Society of Clinical Oncology

American Thoracic Society

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund

CASA Columbia



Lung Cancer Alliance

National Consumers League

National Association of City and County Health Officials

National Latino Alliance for Health Equity

National Physicians Alliance

North American Quitline Consortium

Oncology Nursing Society

Partnership for Prevention

Smoking Cessation Leadership Center

Trust for American’s Health


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