Lawrence health advocates applaud the decision by CVS to stop selling tobacco products and hope more businesses will take similar steps.
“It’s very refreshing when somebody makes a decision that may have some financial implications but they do it for the right reasons,” said Charles Yockey, a pulmonary specialist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and longtime smoking cessation teacher.
“It’s a really bold step. I hope they stick to it, and I hope others follow suit.”
CVS Caremark this week announced that it would phase out all cigarettes and other tobacco products from its 7,600 stores nationwide by Oct. 1, as the company shifts toward being more of a health care provider.
CVS and other drugstore chains have been adding in-store clinics and health care offerings, even expanding their focus to include helping people manage chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Chris Tilden, community health director for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department said CVS taking tobacco off the shelves just makes sense.
“When someone goes into their doctor’s office they aren’t offered tobacco products,” Tilden said. “And pharmacies are an important part of our healthcare process.”
Tilden and Yockey advocate decreasing availability and convenience of cigarettes and tobacco, including through retail sales.
“It makes the unhealthy choice a little tougher, and we are always looking for ways to make the healthy choice the easier choice,” Tilden said. He said data indicates one in five Douglas County adults smokes cigarettes and that smoking remains the leading cause of death in the United States.
Managers at Lawrence’s two CVS stores, 4841 W. Sixth St. and 2300 Iowa St., declined to comment for this story, referring questions to the company’s corporate office.
One man who stopped in the Sixth Street store for a pack of cigarettes and a Frappuccino this week said he didn’t expect the phase-out to inconvenience him much. The shopper, who declined to give his name for publication, said he usually picks up cigarettes wherever’s handy when he’s out.
Customers like him may be part of the reason other drugstore chains have been reluctant to pull tobacco.
CVS said that while it has about $1.5 billion annually in tobacco sales, it expects to lose about $2 billion in annual revenue by removing tobacco because smokers also buy other products when they visit.
Walgreens, which has Lawrence locations at 3421 W. Sixth St. and 400 W. 23rd St., has argued that it must continue to sell tobacco to remain competitive with other drugstore chains, convenience stores and grocers.
Michael Polzin, a Walgreens spokesman, said the company “will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want, while also helping to educate them and providing smoking cessation products and alternatives that help reduce the demand for tobacco products.”
Walgreens on Wednesday also announced a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline Consumer healthcare to launch a free, Internet-based smoking cessation program called Sponsorship to Quit.
As CVS has teamed with hospital groups and doctor practices to help deliver and monitor patient care, CVS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan said 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.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.