Friday, February 7, 2014

CVS deserves thanks for a bold move

     Everyone knows, even though cigarette company executives still don’t want to admit it, that using tobacco kills. Smoking kills 435,000 people in the U.S. each year.

     That’s a discouraging figure, especially given common knowledge about smoking’s dangers, but there is a new and especially encouraging signal. This week, CVS, the largest drugstore chain in the country, announced that it will stop selling tobacco products by Oct. 1.

     Former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop, appointed during the Reagan administration, used his national position to make people aware of the devastation that comes with smoking. His efforts and some key lawsuits led Americans to change their habits. The good news is that today only 18 percent of U.S. adults smoke, down sharply from 43 percent in 1965. The bad news is that smoking still kills hundreds of thousands more than do alcohol, obesity, auto accidents, gun violence and firearms combined.

     The decline in tobacco use can be attributed to falling social acceptance. Cigarette ads no longer appear on television; stars in movies do not regularly smoke as part of the script. The military, which provided free cigarettes to the troops for 60 years, stopped the practice in 1975.

     Like any other retailer, CVS has the right to provide or not provide services, but has found it inconsistent to claim their role as a health-provider network while peddling products known by the medical community to be such a major health risk.

     Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebellius agreed, saying, “Today’s CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation. I hope others will follow their lead.”

     CVS operates more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide and more than 800 include medical clinics within the pharmacy locations. CVS, like other modern drug stores, sells far more than pharmaceuticals. And CVS, like most large pharmacies, sells cigarettes and other tobacco products.

     Abandoning those sales comes at a price. CVS Caremark estimates an annual revenue loss of $2 billion from tobacco shoppers. The health costs to both individuals and the nation make that very large number seem much smaller.

     Each day, more than 3,200 youths under age 18 in the U.S. try their first cigarette and more than 700 kids under 18 become daily smokers. If we fail to reverse course, 5.6 million American children alive today will die prematurely due to smoking. This is unacceptable.

     CVS deserves thanks for making this move. We hope other corporations show the same concern.

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