3 Questions on…

Answers straight from the experts on the latest news and topics in oncology

Monday, March 24, 2014

3 Questions on… The CVS Decision to End Tobacco Sales

With CLIFFORD HUDIS, MD, President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology

The pharmacy retailer CVS Caremark announced last month that it would stop selling cigarettes and all tobacco products at its stores by October 1, 2014—the first national drugstore chain to take such action. How did the oncology and medical communities’ react? Rave applause.

Twenty-six public health and medical organizations across the country, including ASCO, together issued an open letter (addressed to “America’s Retailers, Especially Those with Pharmacies”), calling for other drug stores and retailers to follow CVS’s lead.

We asked Dr. Hudis, a medical oncologist and Chief of Breast Cancer Medicine Services at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for his personal reactions.

1. Why was the CVS decision to stop selling tobacco products a significant one in the fight against lung cancer?

“Tobacco is the number one preventable cause of cancer in the U.S. and much of the world. It’s responsible [in the U.S.] for 480,000 lives lost a year. And putting aside how crazy it is to use tobacco in the first place, it’s completely crazy to be selling it in places that are supposedly geared toward health.

“For years it would bother me that I would walk into a drugstore and they would be selling tobacco where you get your prescriptions. It’s a conflict. It’s hypocrisy.

“I do understand — somewhat. Tobacco is a legal product and it’s a business. I get that. But I just can’t applaud CVS enough for taking the moral high ground — even if it’s costing them some money to do this.”

2. Do you think the action will actually reduce tobacco use, or will users just find those products elsewhere?

“It can only help. It reminds people of the harms. We’ve been making slow but steady progress on tobacco control, and the worst this can do is not work. But, at least it sends a message to people that this is the right thing to do. And even better than that, it may help support all of the global and national efforts to remind everybody we need to continue to fight for this.”

3. ASCO signed the letter with 25 other large health organizations calling for other retailers and drug stores to end tobacco sales, too. Do you think other retailers will follow suit?

“We just hope that people will take the moral and brave stand. We have a long-standing program in the tobacco-control community — in lobbying national and local legislators, and others — and we saw the opportunity to take another step. Our goal is a world free of the worry about cancer. And one big part of that is to eliminate the single-leading preventable cause. How could we not do this?”