Word that CVS, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, is stopping to sell tobacco products is a welcome development, and other retailers should follow their example.
Five decades after the U.S. Surgeon General announced the bombshell conclusions of a report proving that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and is associated with other deadly illnesses, far too many Americans are still smoking. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung diseases (including emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic airway obstruction) and, on average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
Though it is believed that anti-smoking measures have saved roughly 8 million American lives in the last half-century, cigarettes are responsible for approximately 443,000 deaths — one in every five deaths — each year in the United States.
What often goes unnoticed is that an estimated 49,000 of those who die from smoking-related illness didn’t smoke. They are the victims of exposure to secondhand smoke — the spouses, children, parents, friends and co-workers of smokers.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, for every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, 20 more people suffer with at least one serious illness linked to smoking.
Despite the indisputable evidence that tobacco is the largest cause of preventable illness and death, about 44 million adults in the U.S. — roughly 18 percent of the population — still smoke cigarettes.
Like other drugstore chains throughout the country, CVS has been working to team up with hospital groups and doctors’ practices to help deliver and monitor patient care. The company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, told the Associated Press that the presence of tobacco in its stores has made for some awkward conversations.
“One of the first questions they ask us is ‘Well, if you’re going to be part of the health-care system, how can you continue to sell tobacco products?’” he said. “There’s really no good answer to that at all.”
“We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” said CVS CEO Larry Merlo, who noted that many of the chronic conditions their clinics treat are made worse by smoking.
The drug store chain, which has 7,600 stores nationwide, says it expects to lose about $2 billion in annual revenue by phasing out tobacco sales. But it won’t hurt cigarette companies much. Drugstores overall account for only 4 percent of cigarettes sold; gas stations, on the other hand, generate nearly half of those sales. Hopefully, the decision by CVS will have a domino effect on other retail outlets, including gas stations.
Smokers don’t merely put their own lives and physical health at risk; they endanger all those around them through the deadly effects of second-hand smoke. Those who readily sell tobacco products are, in essence, complicit in the devastating consequences.