Longs Drugs to remove tobacco products from shelves


Tiffiny Zygutis was sitting outside Longs Drugs downtown when she heard the news that the store will soon stop selling cigarettes.

The store is among 7,600 CVS Caremark-owned pharmacy stores around the nation that will be eliminating cigarettes from their inventory effective Oct. 1, the company announced Wednesday.

Zygutis of Mountain View has been smoking cigarettes since she was 15 and said she is not happy with the decision, especially since she buys many of her smokes from various Longs Drugs stores on the island.

“They’re making all these rules and laws for nonsmokers, but what about smokers?” she said. “We don’t purposely try to bother them.”

According to a statement issued by the company’s president, the decision to eliminate the product from the stores’ shelves is business and health-related.

Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer of the company, said it was “the right thing to do.”

The sale of tobacco is “inconsistent” with the company’s purpose, which is “helping people on their path to better health,” according to a statement released by CVS.

The decision comes as the company is looking to rebrand itself as a health care provider instead of as a retail chain. The company is also looking to “align itself with public policy.”

CVS Caremark, which operates six Longs Drugs locations islandwide, is the largest provider of prescription drugs in the United States, and is the first national pharmacy chain to implement such a change.

The decision will cut annual revenue for the company by about $2 billion, which equals about 17 cents a share for the company.

While Zygutis might not be happy with the decision, Julian Lipsher, chief of chronic disease management and control for the Hawaii State Department of Health, said the state “applauds CVS Caremark/Longs decision to phase out tobacco products by Oct. 1.”

“As an important member of the health care system, in what was once the neighborhood drug store, now a large corporation, selling tobacco has no place in where we come to maintain our health,” he said. “There is really no good reason for an organization dedicated to good health to continue to sell tobacco.”

Lipsher anticipates other drug stores around the nation and in Hawaii will follow suit.

Walgreens, the largest U.S. drugstore chain, will “continue to evaluate” tobacco products while providing education and alternatives to help reduce demand, Jim Graham, a spokesman for the Deerfield, Ill.-based company, wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Lipsher said tobacco-related illness kills more than 450,000 people each year and more than 1,100 in Hawaii.

“It is the single most preventable cause of disease and death,” he added.

According to statistics provided by CVS Caremark, 16 million people already have at least one disease from smoking and nine in 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking.

President Obama applauded CVS’ move.

“As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example,” he said in a separate statement. “(Wednesday’s) decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs.”

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this article.

 

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