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Editorial: Drug chain's decision sends right message on smoking

Feb. 07, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

Even if you are the second-largest drugstore chain in the country, walking away from $2 billion in annual revenue is a big step.

But that is what CVS Caremark has decided to do by ending the sale of tobacco products at its 7,600 stores across the country, which include a number of stores in the Tri-State. In recent years, the company has expanded beyond drugstore retailing into several other areas of health care, working with hospital groups and doctor practices to help deliver and monitor patient care.

"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?' " CVS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan told The Associated Press this week. "There's really no good answer to that at all."

And here is why.

Tobacco use is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung diseases, including emphysema, bronchitis and chronic airway obstruction.

The death toll is huge. About 20 million Americans have died from smoking in the past 50 years, according to a 2014 report from the Surgeon General's Office linked to the first warnings given by that office in 1964. Smoking has declined dramatically during those years, from more than 50 percent of adults in the 1960s to about 20 percent today.

But lingering habits are still very deadly -- especially in our region that often leads the nation in tobacco use. The CDC estimates there are still 440,000 deaths per year in the U.S., and 49,000 are the result of second-hand smoke. Moreover, smoking contributes to a host of other health problems, beginning with infants born to mothers who smoke, adding to the health care costs for everyone.

But smoking is still big business, with U.S. retail sales of tobacco totaling about $107.7 billion in 2012.

So the move by CVS Caremark provides an important statement about the dangers of smoking, as well as a practical step to reduce the availability and presence of cigarettes.

About 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, and about half try each year.

By removing tobacco products and stepping up smoking cessation efforts, stores are sending the right message and providing support for those tobacco users who can and should quit.

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