Lawmakers Urge Drug Store Chains To Stop Carrying Tobacco Products

It’s been nearly three months since CVS announced it was phasing out the sale of tobacco products in its stores, and so far no other major drug store chain has followed suit. So today, a dozen members of Congress, led by Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, called on these retailers to put an end to their part in the sale of cigarettes and other items containing tobacco.

Pallone, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, along with 11 other members of the committee, sent a letter (full text below) to Steven Anderson, President and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, asking the trade group to urge its member retailers to stop selling tobacco products.

CVS, the nation’s largest drug store retailer in terms of annual sales, plans to have these products off its shelves permanently by October of this year. In announcing its decision, the company stated that it will likely give up around $2 billion a year in revenue, but that the sale of tobacco products was “inconsistent with our purpose” as a store intended to provide health care products to consumers.

In spite of pressure from a group of more than two dozen attorneys general and numerous advocacy groups, other drug store retailers like Walgreens have not announced any plans to quit selling tobacco.

Walgreens has only stated that it is “evaluating” the sale of tobacco products, while also continuing to be involved in a smoking cessation partnership with GlaxoSmithKline, the drug company that holds the U.S. license on Nicorette products.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” said Congressman Pallone in a statement. “Removing tobacco products from the shelves of local pharmacies shows a real commitment to improving the health of consumers. We have a responsibility to protect our young people, and making these harmful products less available is an important step in the right direction.”

Here is the full text of the letter sent by the legislators to Steven C. Anderson, President and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores:

Dear Mr. Anderson,

We write to urge all of your member retailers to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in their stores. In February of this year, CVS Caremark announced its intention to do just that, exhibiting leadership and dedication to helping people on their path to better health. Together we must send an unmistakable message to all Americans, especially children, that tobacco product use is incompatible with health and wellness.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. New findings in the latest Surgeon General’s report indicate that cigarettes are even more hazardous and addictive than previously known. Each year 480,000 Americans die from smoking-related causes and smoking costs the country over $289 billion in health bills and lost productivity. All levels of government and the private sector have important roles to play in ending deadly addiction to tobacco.

At the federal level, we must ensure that the Food and Drug Administration can take regulatory action to protect the public from the dangers of tobacco – including banning candy-flavored cigars that appeal to our youth and ending e-cigarette marketing practices that target kids. As President Obama has proposed in his FY 2015 Budget, Congress should raise the taxes on all tobacco products and close loopholes that let tobacco companies avoid federal taxes. We must also remove barriers to quit attempts by making certain that tobacco cessation coverage is available to all Americans through the Affordable Care Act.

Chain community pharmacies are an important player in the health care system and as such can play a critical role in addressing the nation’s tobacco epidemic and improving public health. As the delivery of our health system evolves and we continue to focus on better health outcomes and controlling costs, we believe that cigarettes and other tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. By supporting removal of tobacco products from retail pharmacy shelves and increasing access to tobacco cessation products, your members will send an unequivocal message about the dangers of tobacco use.

We look forward to working with you to reduce the toll of tobacco use and improve the health and wellbeing of all Americans.

Frank Pallone, Jr
Henry A. Waxman
Jan Schakowsky
Eliot Engel
Anna Eshoo
Lois Capps
Gene Green
Doris Matsui
Donna Christensen
Kathy Castor
John Sarbanes
Paul Tonko

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