February 11, 2011 - Over the course of seven months, a small group of protesters stood in front of various CVS stores in Washington, D.C., holding up signs with a simple yet powerful statement: "CVS sells poison."
Let CVS and Rite Aid know that selling tobacco while claiming to promote health is a conflict of interest and should be stopped.
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The "poison" is something most of us are accustomed to seeing at check-out: cigarettes, chew, cigars. CVS, like other major pharmacies, promotes and sells tobacco products, while simultaneously dispensing medication designed to treat tobacco-related diseases. This conflict of interest is one that activists are hoping to point out to the stores, customers and lawmakers.
The "CVS Sells Poison" campaign was started by the folks at the Toxic-Tobacco Law Coalition. In addition to their protest, they've also made a "CVS Sells Poison" music video on YouTube, sung by the talented 13-year-old Sofia Roma. The chorus includes: "CVS sells poison/Just like the other drug chains/Distributing cigarettes far and wide/Causing heart disease, cancer and pain."
Inside the stores, they turned the camera to the CVS Pharmacy counter, where a staged customer asks for advice about how to safely use two products sold in the stores: a popular over-the-counter heart burn medicine and cigarettes.
The pharmacists, not surprisingly, tell the customer that there's no safe level of tobacco. But the decision to carry cigarettes and chewing tobacco isn't up to them; in fact, 98 percent of pharmacists prefer that their stores are tobacco-free. Last year, the American Pharmacists Association supported the discontinuation of tobacco products in pharmacies and facilities that include pharmacies.
Most small pharmacies are tobacco-free, but the large chains are in the pocket of Big Tobacco, which pays large sums to have their product displayed right at the cash register, a highly-sought after piece of product real estate. And according to industry files from UCSF's tobacco documents library, tobacco companies have "actively recruited pharmacies to sell tobacco products, oppose tobacco control legislation and emphasize profits over health concerns."
It's a not-so-slight attempt at keeping their products accessible and accepted, as common as chewing gum and shampoo. But although pharmacies now sell a host of products not-related to health, they are still trusted sources of health information for many consumers. They sell products and medications designed to prevent and treat illness, offer health screenings and some even have health clinics.
It wouldn't make sense for an oncologist to have a cigarette machine in the waiting room and it doesn't make sense to sell and promote cigarettes in a place of health care.
Reference: Activists Target Tobacco in Pharmacies With 'CVS Sells Poison' Campaign by Brie Cadman, change.org, 2/17/2011.