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House Democrats call on drug chains to drop tobacco
May 1st, 2014
WASHINGTON – A dozen members of Congress this week called on the nation's drug chains to cease selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in their stores.
Led by Rep. Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), the House Democrats sent a letter to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores asking the trade group to urge its members to drop tobacco products from their stores, following suit with the plan announced in February by CVS Caremark Corp.
"Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States," Pallone, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, said in a statement. "Removing tobacco products from the shelves of local pharmacies shows a real commitment to improving the health of consumers. We have a responsibility to protect our young people, and making these harmful products less available is an important step in the right direction."
In the letter, to NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson, the congressmen noted that chain pharmacies already play a key role in the nation's health care system and can leverage that position to reduce tobacco use by making it more difficult for people to get access to tobacco products. At the same time, the letter called for drug stores to increase access to smoking cessation products.
"We write to urge all of your member retailers to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in their stores. In February of this year, CVS Caremark announced its intention to do just that, exhibiting leadership and dedication to helping people on their path to better health," the lawmakers' letter said. "Together we must send an unmistakable message to all Americans, especially children, that tobacco product use is incompatible with health and wellness."
CVS aims to stop all tobacco product sales in its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide by Oct. 1. The drug chain drew widespread praise for the move, including from President Obama, and since then calls have amplified for other pharmacy retailers to follow suit. Last month, the attorneys general of 28 states and territories asked the chief executive officers of Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, Kroger and Safeway to remove tobacco products from their stores.
"Chain community pharmacies are an important player in the health care system and as such can play a critical role in addressing the nation’s tobacco epidemic and improving public health," the congressmen's letter to NACDS stated. "As the delivery of our health system evolves and we continue to focus on better health outcomes and controlling costs, we believe that cigarettes and other tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered."
Besides Pallone, the House members signing the letter were Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), Lois Capps (D., Calif.), Gene Green (D., Texas), Doris Matsui (D., Calif.), Donna Christensen (D., U.S. Virgin Islands), Kathy Castor (D., Fla.), John Sarbanes (D., Md.) and Paul Tonko (D., N.Y.).
The congressmen also pointed to the Food and Drug Administration's efforts to tighten tobacco regulation beyond cigarettes, notably electronic cigarettes. Last week, the FDA proposed a new rule that would extend its regulatory authority for tobacco to cover currently marketed items that are unregulated, such as e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels and waterpipe tobacco (hookah).
"At the federal level, we must ensure that the Food and Drug Administration can take regulatory action to protect the public from the dangers of tobacco, including banning candy-flavored cigars that appeal to our youth and ending e-cigarette marketing practices that target kids," the letter to NACDS said. "As President Obama has proposed in his fiscal year 2015 budget, Congress should raise the taxes on all tobacco products and close loopholes that let tobacco companies avoid federal taxes. We must also remove barriers to quit attempts by making certain that tobacco cessation coverage is available to all Americans through the Affordable Care Act.
"By supporting removal of tobacco products from retail pharmacy shelves and increasing access to tobacco cessation products, your members will send an unequivocal message about the dangers of tobacco use," the letter concluded. "We look forward to working with you to reduce the toll of tobacco use and improve the health and well-being of all Americans."