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Commentary: Cigarettes and Pharmacies Don’t Mix


By now, almost everyone has heard the big announcement from CVS/pharmacy that their stores will become tobacco-free by October 1. This is a significant milestone, and yet it’s just the latest chapter of a long story.

Have you heard about Fred Mayer? He is the Marin County, California pharmacist who made the courageous choice — decades ago — to rid his pharmacy of tobacco. Fred proclaimed “enough is enough,” gathered up the cigarettes one day, and had a bonfire out back. No corporate hand-wringing about “revenue loss” and “customer choice.” Just a good local decision from an upright pharmacist whose primary interest was the health of his customers and his community.

And do you know about Terence (Terry) Gerace? For the last few years, Terry has been showing up in Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle, staging a one-man silent protest. His sign is simple and to the point: “CVS Sells Poison.” Tough words, but right on. Doesn’t he deserve a tweet from Michelle Obama, too?

In 2008, when San Francisco passed the first tobacco-free pharmacy ordinance in the United States, it wasn’t easy. With the ordinance came a three-pack of lawsuits: from Philip Morris, Walgreens, and Safeway. Law briefs from these organizations are a fascinating part of our tobacco-control history, documenting corporate fear of change, mixed with disdain for the health of the people.

Legacy- Cigarettes and Pharmacies Don't Mix

Happily, San Francisco just celebrated its fifth anniversary of tobacco-free pharmacies, and the light is green to any community that is ready to pass a similar policy. Over 75 communities in Massachusetts have done just this too.

Safeway: With your slogan “Ingredients for Life”, and your pharmacies at the back of the store, will you continue to sell and propel Marlboros into our neighborhoods?

Walgreens: With your slogan “The Pharmacy America Trusts” will you continue to do the tobacco industry’s bidding by pushing e-cigarettes, Swisher Sweets, Newports and chew into our young, people of color, LGBT, low-income and other vulnerable communities?

Your local pharmacist knows best: Cigarettes and Pharmacies don’t mix.

Bob Gordon is the winner of Legacy’s 2013 Community Activist Award. For the majority of his career, Mr. Gordon has been a leader in addressing tobacco-related harms within the LGBT community. His leadership has been pivotal in bringing the LGBT community together to take a stand against the tobacco industry, while championing smoking-cessation classes geared specifically to LGBT and HIV-positive smokers. He currently serves as Project Director for the California LGBT Tobacco Education Partnership in San Francisco, California. To learn more about Bob Gordon and his work, visit the Legacy website.

6 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Naphtali Offen
    Naphtali Offen / April 24, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Jack, I disagree with you that pushing ecigs is a good thing. The literature says ecigs result in LESS cessation, not more, with dual use on the rise, and we have yet to learn just how pervasive ecigs will be for initiation of kids who never had a regular cigarette. If the industry stops manufacturing tobacco cigs, then we can talk about ecigs as a better alternative, but not until then. Bob, great article, as always.

  2. Avatar of Jay
    Jay / April 22, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    You guys DO realize that CVS is doing this to take advantage of Obamacare by becoming a cheap, convenient alternative to traditional MD offices and urgent care centers and not just out of the kindness of their hearts, right? They need to remove tobacco products to qualify for the program.

  3. Avatar of GeoffH
    GeoffH / April 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I respect this concept, but you have left out alcohol sales in pharmacies for the same reasons. Good luck in making that happen….alcohol use is much more prevalent than tobacco. If the pharmacy sells nicotine replacement products, then including ecigs in that category is logical and ought to be permitted.

  4. Mark1 / April 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Great post. I always like an example of normal peron doing something exceptional simply because it it the right thing to do.

  5. Fr. Jack Kearney / April 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    What a wonderful article…until you get to the nonsensical line about tobacco companies “pushing” electronic cigarettes. Tobacco cigarettes kill people, e-cigs save lives. As a proven smoking cessation tool that is relatively safe, ecigs should be “pushed” more and more.

  6. GeoffH / April 17, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Great points Jack! I was hoping for a bit more ‘harm reduction’ support from the Partnership on this one too… keep rocking

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