The Times West Virginian

Opinion

February 6, 2014

CVS putting public health safety first

One in five.

That’s how many deaths are attributed to cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke in the United States each year, making tobacco use the single most preventable cause of death in the country.

Smoking also has a significant impact on the economy, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying smoking-caused diseases result in $96 billion in health care costs each year.

The CDC reports that in West Virginia, the percentage of adults who smoked cigarettes was 28.6 percent in 2011; the percentage of youth in grades 9-12 was 19.1 percent. Among all adults, the percentage who reported being exposed to secondhand smoke was higher in West Virginia than in the nation overall.

The CDC and other agencies have long warned of the dangers that come along with tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

And now, at least one company is taking a stand.

On Wednesday, CVS Caremark, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, said it will phase out cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco by Oct. 1.

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The move will cost CVS about $2 billion in annual revenue, and it was met with a positive response from everyone from public health officials all the way to the White House.

“We commend CVS for putting public health ahead of their bottom line and recognizing the need for pharmacies to focus on supporting health and wellness instead of contributing to disease and death caused by tobacco use,” the American Medical Association said.

President Barack Obama praised the decision and said the new policy “will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country.”

“As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and (Wednesday’s) decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs — ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come,” he said in a statement.

CVS should be applauded for making this choice despite its impact on the company’s bottom line. It’s a choice that, as first lady Michelle Obama tweeted on Wednesday, will help us “all breathe a little easier.”

While we know the move won’t stop someone who wants to buy cigarettes — that person will now just go elsewhere — we agree with Dr. Richard Wender of the American Cancer Society, who said CVS’s move will have an effect because “every time we make it more difficult to purchase a pack of cigarettes, someone quits.”

And that’s a decision that ultimately will help save lives.

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