Paradox of Cigarette Sales in Pharmacies Focus of New Movement

UCSF Scientist, Major Pharmacy Launch National Move to Halt Tobacco Sales in Drugstores

By Elizabeth Fernandez    |   UCSF.edu | February 5, 2014

Paradox of Cigarette Sales in Pharmacies Focus of New Movement

Steven A. Schroeder, MD

Pharmacies, focused on the health and wellbeing of their customers, have long been saddled with a paradox: they sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, even though tobacco use is the nation’s leading cause of preventable death.

If retailers, particularly pharmacies, were to discontinue selling cigarettes, fewer smokers and fewer deaths by smoking would occur, according to a new opinion article co-written by a UC San Francisco scientist. That’s also the premise behind a new decision by CVS Caremark, the nation’s largest pharmacy health care company, to end cigarette and tobacco sales in its stores this year.
 
In a Viewpoint article published online today in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors say that selling tobacco products is "clearly antithetical" to the role of pharmacies, especially as pharmacies expand their role as an integral part of the nation’s health care system.
 
The JAMA Viewpoint is written by Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH, executive vice president and chief medical officer of CVS Caremark; and Steven A. Schroeder, MD, a UCSF professor and director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center.
 
"Nowhere else in health care are tobacco products available in the same setting where diseases are being diagnosed and treated," they write.
 
The CVS decision will cost the company an estimated $1.5 billion in annual tobacco sales, according to the JAMA article.
 
Initially, the move to eliminate tobacco sales by CVS may not entice significant numbers to quit smoking – instead, customers may go elsewhere to buy cigarettes, the authors say. But if other retailers followed suit, tobacco products would become harder to obtain, the authors write, and thus the health of individuals and the population would benefit.
 
"Moreover, if people understood that retail outlets that plan to promote health, provide pharmacy services, and house retail clinics are no longer going to sell tobacco products, the social unacceptability of tobacco use will be substantially reinforced," the physicians write. "Indeed, the continued sale (of cigarettes) would appear to sanction the most unhealthy habit a person can maintain."

 

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