Earlier this year, CVS/Caremark announced its decision to stop selling tobacco products in its retail pharmacies. With this decision, CVS confronted a longstanding conflict in which many pharmacies offer cigarettes for sale only a few feet from where a customer fills a prescription for an asthma inhaler. CVS deserves our praise. This is a major step forward in our efforts to combat the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the US. As encouraged as I am by the CVS actions, however, I hope this is not the end of the story. Now is the time for other retail pharmacies to follow suit and discontinue the sale of tobacco products.
As CEO and Director of Huntsman Cancer Institute, I witness the cancer challenge every day. Cancer is a complex and difficult-to-treat disease; in Utah alone, an estimated 11,000 individuals will receive a cancer diagnosis this year. Our physicians and scientists, both on the University of Utah campus and through our statewide alliance with Intermountain Healthcare, the Huntsman-Intermountain Cancer Care Program, work very hard to bring an end to this scourge.
Yet, these efforts to eradicate cancer can do only so much in the face of the risk that tobacco use poses. Tobacco use is implicated in many cancers – lung, esophageal, stomach, liver, pancreatic, and colon, to name just a few. Smoking contributes to the vast majority of lung cancer deaths.
And the risk doesn’t end with cancer. Tobacco use is associated with higher risk of stroke, diabetes, reduced fertility, heart disease.
It is therefore surprising that pharmacies, as key components of our health care system, would sell these dangerous products to their customers. No physician would ever recommend the use of tobacco to a patient, so why sell these products in a retail pharmacy?
We have made magnificent strides in cancer research over the past 40 years, with targeted, personalized therapies to offer the best possible treatment tailored to each cancer patient. But perhaps the greatest advance we have made since the war on cancer began in 1971 is discovering how to prevent cancer before it occurs. Armed with the knowledge that smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and the leading cause of preventable cancer, we must take action.
There are only two CVS pharmacy locations in Utah – one in Provo and one in Roy. Thus, the positive impact of this principled decision by CVS will not reach all corners of our State. The decision by CVS is an important step, but just the beginning. I urge other retail pharmacy companies to follow the lead of CVS. Utah pharmacies can lead the nation in modeling their commitment to good health by discontinuing the practice of selling tobacco.
Mary Beckerle, Ph.D., is CEO and Director of Huntsman Cancer Institute.
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