Bill Pfeifer: Pharmacies must quit selling tobacco products

2014-04-14T00:00:00Z Bill Pfeifer: Pharmacies must quit selling tobacco productsBy Bill J. Pfeifer Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Arizona, it’s time for our pharmacies — resources for health and wellness — to get out of the tobacco trade.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in this country. Each year nearly half a million American deaths — a full 1 in 5 — are the result of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. And with more than 17 percent of Arizona high school students reporting they are smokers, this deadly trend promises to continue for generations to come. But if we act boldly and immediately, we can bring this health crisis to an end.

Recently, a number of businesses and public officials have taken such bold, public actions. This February, CVS Caremark announced that it was ending tobacco sales in its retail pharmacies. The American Lung Association agrees that selling cigarettes is incompatible with any company whose mission is promoting health and wellness. Tobacco sales by retailers — especially those with pharmacies— make the products more accessible to smokers and those who are trying to quit. They also make tobacco use appear more acceptable and undermine the lifesaving efforts of those who work to prevent young people from becoming addicted to tobacco.

The tobacco industry spends nearly $1 million each hour of every day marketing its lethal products. Clearly, ending tobacco sales at all pharmacies in Arizona, and the nation, would represent a significant milestone for all of us who want to see a healthier, tobacco-free America. This is especially true for parents watching our children getting targeted by much of that endless tobacco marketing.

Although a giant step forward, reducing the number of retail locations that sell tobacco products cannot singlehandedly eliminate tobacco-related deaths. We know what works — including higher tobacco taxes, preventing kids from starting, smoke-free laws and helping smokers get the help they need to quit, which is why the American Lung Association has long called for stronger political leadership to enact these measures and reduce the enormous health and economic toll of tobacco use.

In November 2006, the citizens of Arizona demanded a smoke-free state by passing the Smoke-Free Arizona Act. This landmark statute makes most enclosed public places and places of employment smoke-free — protecting us from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Across the state, we have to continue to insist that more policy makers, businesses and retailers take a stand against tobacco use and protect the health of all Arizonans.

Recently, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne joined 27 other state attorneys general in sending a letter to top national retailers, urging them to follow CVS’ lead and remove tobacco products from their shelves. We applaud this effort and urge other organizations, here in Arizona and across the country, to encourage other retailers to remove tobacco products from their sales mix and prioritize public health over short-term profits.

Collectively, these actions will go a long way toward creating Arizona’s first tobacco-free generation and help make tobacco history.

Bill J. Pfeifer is president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Southwest, which serves Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Contact him at bpfeifer@lungs.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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