Some drugstores promote tobacco products more than cessation
Smokers trying to kick the habit might not get much help from their local drugstore. A recent survey found that many chains are more likely to carry tobacco advertising than they are to refer patients to smoking-cessation programs.
The Pharmacy Partnership, a coalition of pharmacists, physicians, public health agencies, and community leaders organized by the California Medical Association Foundation, undertook a statewide study of four chains. The study found that, overall, 43% carry some form of tobacco company advertising (in spite of the fact that all had claimed to have little or no tobacco promotions in their stores, according to the Partnership).
The study also showed that only 16% of the stores refer smokers to local cessation programs.
The telephone survey, which included 850 store managers from around the state, found that 59% of Sav-on Drug stores, 54% of Walgreens, 40% of Thrifty-PayLess/Rite Aid, and 33% of Longs had some form of tobacco advertising (such as counter-item dividers, merchandise catalogues, baskets, or display cases carrying tobacco company or product names and logos).
In contrast, the Partnership said, only 22% of independent pharmacies in the state promote or sell tobacco products.
Walgreen Co. spokesman Michael Polzin said his company is a "responsible retailer of tobacco products" that, in most ways, looks at tobacco no differently from any other product. "We don't promote them in our sales flyers at all. We only offer them as a convenience to those customers who expect to find them in our stores," he said. "About 25% of the population does smoke ... and we do respond to those customers' demands."
Another executive at one of the four chains agreed that providing the products customers want is an economic reality. But he also told Drug Topics his company wrestles with the dichotomy of the chain drug industry in the '90s: health-care companies are also in the "convenience business." He said his company will probably move gradually toward the elimination of cigarette promotion and sales, though no official decision or timetable has been set.
To many, it seems self-evident that promotion of tobacco companies and products encourages use of those products. And most Americans accept that there are long-term health risks inherent to smoking or chewing tobacco.
"Tobacco promotions have no place in a family health setting, let alone this important corner of our health-care system," said Jack Lewin, M.D., CEO of the California Medical Association.
In spite of the Pharmacy Partnership study, at least some chains seem to agree with Lewin's contention. A 1997 study by Drug Topics found that 57% of chains sold cigarettes, down from 68% a year earlier. Though the vast majority that still sold cigarettes said they would continue to do so, 18% said they planned to stop in 1998.