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    Expert QA: CDC’s Tom Frieden on CVS and Tobacco


    Medscape’s Susan Yox, RN, EdD, interviewed CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, about the news that national drug store chain CVS Caremark Corporation will stop selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores by October of this year.

    What is your reaction to this news? Do you believe that this will put pressure on other retailers to do the same?

    We’re delighted that CVS has done this. It’s a great step. I think they’ve recognized that trying to be both a healthcare facility and selling tobacco is just a paradox that’s unhealthy and untenable. And I join Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in hoping that others will follow their lead.

    When pharmacies decide not to sell tobacco products, is the primary benefit the reinforcing of the social unacceptability of tobacco?

    I think that is important. In fact, one of my first jobs was in a mental health hospital where we were still using tobacco as a behavior modification modality — as in, “If you behave well you can get 5 cigarettes.” It’s a very shameful history of the healthcare sector. When we look back at advertisements from the 1950s of doctors recommending one brand or another of cigarettes, they look completely anachronistic to us. And I think that in a few years we’ll look back on pharmacies selling tobacco in very much the same way.

    It’s important that this happened for 2 broad reasons. First, the fewer places that sell tobacco and advertise it in their stores, the fewer kids who smoke, it appears. Second, we don’t want the halo of healthcare provision to rub off in any way on the deadliest legal product that we have out there — tobacco.

    Do you think that other retailers (pharmacies, grocery stores, or big-box stores) will follow CVS’s lead?

    I’m optimistic that others will follow the lead of CVS. I think CVS has done a great thing in deciding that it will no longer sell tobacco products, and I hope others do follow their lead.

    How many people in the United States still smoke? How much illness and death is related to smoking in 2014?

    More than 40 million Americans still smoke, and tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in this country. It causes 480,000 deaths per year and many times that number of severe illnesses. The Surgeon General’s report just released a number of new statistics on this; your readers may want to review the very latest facts.

    Can you talk a bit about what else should be happening in the United States to reduce/prevent smoking?

    Broadly, there are 2 things that we need to do. First, we need to implement what we know works; in all too many places that’s not yet happening. Second, we need to find new ways to help people quit smoking and prevent kids from starting. So we need to both maximize our currently proven interventions and continue to innovate new ways to protect our communities and our kids from smoking. Unless we take urgent action, 5.6 million kids alive today will be killed by tobacco.


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