Will other chain pharmacies follow CVS in banning the sale of cigarettes?

February 6, 2014

An interdisciplinary group of pharmacists, pharmacy school and medical school faculty, pharmacy students, nurses, physicians, attorneys, and health advocates have called on Walgreens and Rite Aid to join CVS Caremark and stop the sale of tobacco products in their stores.

An interdisciplinary group of pharmacists, pharmacy school and medical school faculty, pharmacy students, nurses, physicians, attorneys, and health advocates have called on Walgreens and Rite Aid to join CVS Caremark and stop the sale of tobacco products in their stores.

TobaccofreeRx called on retail pharmacies to do so in response to CVS Caremark’s announcement that it plans on ceasing tobacco sales in October.

Almost 5% of US cigarette sales occur in pharmacies, and that figure does not include the additional cigarette sales that occur in establishments such as grocery stores and department stores that operate a pharmacy on the premises.

“We applaud the decision by CVS to end tobacco sales in pharmacies, noting, however, that the move is long overdue,” said Vinayak Jha, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician and assistant professor of medicine at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Dr Jha is a founder of TobaccofreeRx. “Walgreens and Rite Aid should rapidly adopt the same policy. I don’t know of a more potent way to make cigarettes more socially acceptable than to sell them in every corporate drugstore in America.”

According to Emily Hartwig, Walgreens spokesperson: “We have been evaluating this product category for some time to balance the choices our customers expect from us, with their ongoing health needs,” she said.  “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.”

Over the past year, Walgreens has partnered to conduct broad-based, in-store smoking cessation campaigns to provide consumers with educational health support.  For example, last month it launched a free, online quit-smoking program that incorporates social media and allows tobacco users to personalize their program with customized tools.

“These campaigns demonstrate the value and benefits of smoking cessation by providing consumers incentives to start a smoking cessation program and also support caregivers. With this approach we are able to address the root cause and offer customers solutions to help change behavior,” Hartwig said.

Rite Aid spokesperson Kristin Kellum said that its range of product offerings, including tobacco products, are available for purchase in accordance with federal, state, and local laws. “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. We continually evaluate our product offering to ensure that it meets the needs and interests of our customers,” she said.

“If Walgreens and Rite Aid continue to sell tobacco products, they are forfeiting their right to claim they are part of the healthcare team,” said Alan Blum, MD, a professor of family medicine and director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society