Local health experts applaud CVS for ending tobacco salesNow that drugstore chain CVS has announced it will pull tobacco products from its shelves this fall, local health experts hope other pharmacy retailers also will step up.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Now that drugstore chain CVS has announced it will pull tobacco products from its shelves this fall, local health experts hope other pharmacy retailers also will step up.
“It’s where we were with smoking bans; someone has to make the first big step,” said Dr. Mary Boylan, a cardiothoracic surgeon with St. Luke’s hospital and a member of the Midwest Affiliate Board of the American Heart Association. “Then that will become the norm.”
CVS Caremark, the nation’s No. 2 drugstore chain, announced Wednesday that it will stop selling tobacco products at all of its 7,600 stores by October. That includes the Twin Ports, where CVS has established a presence within the past two years. It has stores in West Duluth and Superior and is building a third store along Superior Street on the east side of Duluth.
It was the right move for a company involved in health care, Larry J. Merlo, CVS president and CEO, said in a statement.
“Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” Merlo said.
Rhode Island-based CVS also pledged to launch what it called a “robust national smoking cessation program this spring.”
Walgreen Co., which also has Walgreens stores in the Twin Ports and is the nation’s largest drug retailing chain, has not
“We have been evaluating this product category for some time to balance the choices our customers expect from us, with their ongoing health needs,” Walgreen Co. said in a prepared statement.
The statement noted that Walgreens stores provide smoking-cessation products “and alternatives to help reduce the demand for tobacco products.”
But that’s not nearly enough, said Jill Doberstein, Duluth-based program manager for tobacco prevention and control with the American Lung Association in Minnesota.
“I have to bite my tongue every time I check out at Walgreens and they say, ‘Be well,’ as the cashier stands in front of a power wall loaded with tobacco products,” Doberstein said.
“It’s kind of ironic that a pharmacy, where you’re supposed to get things that would help heal you, would sell things that would harm you,” she said.
Doberstein noted that Minnesota-based Target, which also has pharmacies, ended tobacco sales in its stores in 1996.
Big bucks are at stake.
CVS said it will be giving up about $2 billion in annual sales when tobacco products come off its shelves. That’s about 1.6 percent of its 2012 revenue.
“They’re going to lose money initially,” Boylan said. “But what they are doing is enhancing the health of the communities in which they have their stores. And that is commendable.”
Some cities, including Boston and San Francisco, already have banned the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. Walgreens went to court to try to stop San Francisco from imposing its ban.
Northeastern Minnesota residents might be open to such a ban, Doberstein said, based on survey results.
The lung association conducted the survey last fall, interviewing 2,160 respondents across seven counties and 93 communities in the region, she said. When asked about prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, 61 percent were either supportive or neutral, Doberstein said.
“One of our objectives for the year is to work on how and where tobacco is sold,” she said.
Nationwide, less than 5 percent of cigarette sales occurred in pharmacies in 2009, according to a study by the Center for Global Tobacco Control. But sales at pharmacies have been increasing even as overall cigarette sales declined.
Despite the revenue loss, CVS said its decision would not make a big dent in its overall financial results.
But Boylan said the company deserves credit regardless.
“For them to take this bold step is wonderful,” she said.
Reuters and the Chicago Tribune’s Washington Bureau contributed to this report.