Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

Smoke-Out: Harkin, Senate Democrats Ask Drug Stores to Follow CVS’ Lead

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Eight Senate Democrats are pushing other drug store chains to follow the lead of CVS Caremark and ditch the habit of selling cigarettes.

“We recognize the legality of selling and profiting from tobacco products, however we also believe that you are in a position to have a major positive impact on public health,” the senators wrote.

CVS announced last week that it would voluntarily abandon sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products, citing public health concerns and the company’s role as a health care provider and insurance company.

The senators’ request comes in the form of letters to the heads of Walgreens, Rite Aid and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Health, Education Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, led the letters, joined by Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer of California, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, as well as Rhode Islanders Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.

CVS is headquartered in Woonsocket, R.I.

The letter to Rite Aid CEO John T. Standley appears below:

Dear Mr. Standley,

We write to urge Rite Aid, as a company committed to the health and wellness of its customers, to follow CVS Caremark’s plan to stop selling tobacco products and promote cessation efforts in all stores. We recognize the legality of selling and profiting from tobacco products, however we also believe that you are in a position to have a major positive impact on public health. By reducing the availability of cigarettes and other tobacco products and increasing access to tobacco cessation products, Rite Aid has the power to further foster the health and wellness of its customers and send a critical message to all Americans — and especially children – about the dangers of tobacco use.

CVS Caremark’s historic announcement comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, and new revelations in the latest Surgeon General’s report that smoking is even more hazardous and takes an even greater toll on the nation’s health than previously known. Smoking kills 480,000 Americans annually, sickens millions more, and costs the nation more than $289 billion every year. The impact of tobacco on our nation’s children is impossible to ignore – 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed. These findings highlight the critical need for all sectors of our community to play a role in ending the unnecessary disease and death that results from tobacco use.

CVS Caremark’s bold and admirable decision will complement federal efforts to save lives and reduce health care costs through continued implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, access to smoking cessation therapies with no out-of-pocket expenses under the Affordable Care Act, and the ongoing success of public awareness campaigns like CDC’s “Tips from a Former Smoker” and FDA’s new “The Real Cost” campaign.

In recognition of the 8.6 million Americans who currently suffer from smoking-caused illnesses, we hope you will join this national effort to end the scourge of tobacco use. We look forward to working with you in a joint effort to promote the health of all Americans.

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