Why would a company in the business of health sell a product that so clearly destroys it?
Good question, admitted corporate executives at CVS Health, the nation's second-largest pharmacy chain.
In a bold and courageous move, CVS Health executives announced last winter that they would no longer sell, promote or carry tobacco products of any kind in any of their 7,700 stores.
I'm happy to say that day arrived early this month — and a full month earlier than expected. I'd be even happier if their competitors were joining in banning a product directly responsible for 450,000 senseless, preventable deaths every year. But no such luck at this point.
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CVS Health expects to lose $2 billion a year in sales but it's doing the right thing. As for the rest of the chain drug-store industry, it appears to remain curiously quiet, at least for now.
Here's hoping the drumbeat that CVS Health started in the pharmacy industry continues to get louder and that forces in government, business and culture will beat that same drum in their spheres of influence.
How can they not?
Tobacco use is the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in the nation. And the state with the highest percentage of adult smokers is Kentucky.
In response, tobacco-policy advocates at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing established the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy in 2004 and began their own drumbeat, starting on the UK campus. By 2009, a campus-wide smoke-free policy was in effect.
Gov. Steve Beshear recently announced that state-owned or leased buildings, vehicles and properties would be smoke-free starting in November. The ban covers only property controlled by the state's executive branch of government. Kentucky's judicial and legislative branches have the decision-making authority to march to their own drummers. Let's hope it's the right one.
Those of us who have devoted our professional careers to tobacco cessation research, intervention and public health policy are counting on companies like CVS Health and America's public and private decision-makers, trendsetters and tastemakers to do the right thing.
Tobacco companies are reaping huge profits on a generation enslaved by a cruel addiction, and they're spending billions to come up with new products that may very well enslave the next.
E-cigarettes? E-asy to see how it could happen.
But we all must reckon with the facts.
When the Surgeon General's landmark report on smoking and health was released in 1964, 42 percent of American adults were smokers. Today, that percentage has dropped to 18 percent.
Better, yes, but that's small comfort to the 16 million Americans suffering from a smoking-related disease right this minute or a nation paying close to $300 billion in smoking-related health-care costs. Still not hearing the drumbeat?
Perhaps even more alarming, an estimated 3,800 American kids will try their first cigarette today.
I, for one, am glad to know they won't be buying it (or having someone buy it for them) at CVS Health. How about you?