Three Cheers for CVS

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Last month on January 23, I wrote on this page that government ought to recognize cigarettes for what they are: an addictive toxin and as such its production and retail sale should be banned. I opined what public health organizations have been saying for years based on decades of study and irrefutable medical and scientific evidence that smoking or inhaling second hand smoke is the greatest health risk threatening Americans. And those astronomical costs to our health care system are ultimately borne by everyone in the form of higher taxes and fees.

In the interim, I have heard back from a number smokers and non-smokers alike. Predictably, many smokers believe that being able to buy a cigarette is part of their liberties, which although unlike guns (as some like to say) is not protected in the Constitution. Others observe that prohibition did not work for alcohol so why repeat the same mistake? Furthermore, growing tobacco and selling it to cigarette manufacturers for retail sale is a huge American industry. All true. But at what cost? Nearly 500,000 Americans die each and every year to smoking related causes. And the expense to our health care system to treat smoking related diseases is a staggering $300 billion annually. Non-smokers care mostly about having to inhale second hand smoke, which studies indicate is almost as deadly as direct smoking over a prolonged period of time.

But smoking is well ingrained in or culture and for sure it is big business. Enter CVS.

Last week, this giant pharmacy chain which makes more money selling tobacco products than penicillin announced that it would stop selling cigarettes in its thousands of outlets across the country, including the one across the street from Peter Cooper Village on 23rd Street near First Avenue. In making their announcement, CVS concluded that selling cigarettes is inconsistent with its main mission of wellness. No longer will they sell antibiotics and cough medicine designed to treat people’s illnesses and symptoms and then sell them disease-inducing cigarettes on their way out.

This move by CVS took guts and a profound sense of civic responsibility rarely exhibited by mega companies otherwise preoccupied with their bottom line. Probably they will lose money… in the short run.

However, I intend to take my pharmacy business from other large chains to CVS. I am very comfortable entrusting my health needs to a pharmacy that puts the well-being of its customers above profits.

The question now is what will other pharmacy chains like Duane Reade and the independents do? Will they double down on their cigarette sales, or will they follow the courageous and visionary example of CVS?

Imagine if every pharmacy and business dedicated to the good health of their customers decided to just say no to cigarettes?!

Steven Sanders is a former Assemblyman who represented this community for 28 years from 1978-2005. He currently is the Executive Director of ACTS, an association that provides services to young children with developmental and learning disabilities.