Why Cigarettes and Pharmacies Don't Mix: Prescription for Change

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 3, 2008 -- As of October 1, 2008, pharmacies in San Francisco have emptied their shelves of all tobacco products.

With the passage of the country's first tobacco-free pharmacy law, San Francisco is leading the way in recognizing that cigarettes and pharmacies don't mix. Walgreens and tobacco giant Philip Morris filed restraining order requests against San Francisco last week seeking to prevent the implementation of the city's tobacco-free pharmacy law. Courts denied both requests and allowed the law to go into effect as scheduled. Walgreens says it will appeal the court's decision, and Philip Morris is expected to pursue its lawsuit in federal court. Walgreens claimed in a recent action alert that it needs to sell tobacco products in order to counsel people to quit smoking.

"People go to their neighborhood pharmacies to buy products to stay healthy and to get better when they are sick, not to buy products that kill," says Robin Corelli, Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the UCSF School of Pharmacy. It's unconscionable for a health-care business to promote or profit from the sale of the leading cause of preventable death in the US."

"Drug stores and the tobacco industry want to maintain their sales relationship. It's no surprise that these lawsuits were filed," said Cynthia Hallett, Executive Director of the non-profit organization Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights." This is a standard Big Tobacco tactic to stop public health policies that they see as harmful to their bottom line."

Health advocates say that more cities are likely to pass tobacco-free pharmacy policies as part of ongoing efforts to lower tobacco-related disease burdens and rising healthcare costs.

Chain drug stores appear to want to have their cake and eat it too. In advertisements, they portray themselves as partners in America's healthcare system. Some, like CVS, even have health clinics in their stores. In June, Walgreens announced plans to add health clinics to stores in Massachusetts. But at the same time, chain pharmacies remain a top retailer of tobacco products in the US.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and takes over 400,000 lives in the U.S. annually.

"Tobacco is a true epidemic," added Hallett. But chain pharmacies are dead serious about maximizing their tobacco sales. When is the last time you heard a drug store checkout clerk counsel someone to buy cessation products rather than cigarettes? If pharmacies really cared about people's health, they would put the cigarettes out of sight or eliminate them completely, rather than on display like a bubblegum impulse buy."

Hallett is referring to the typical drug store practice of placing cigarettes directly behind the counter where they're seen by every customer, including children and people trying to quit smoking.

Bob Gordon, Project Director of the California LGBT Tobacco Education Partnership in San Francisco points out that most independent pharmacies are already tobacco-free, but that shareholder pressure likely prevents publicly-traded chain pharmacies from going tobacco-free on their own.

Pharmacies are generally considered among the most trusted sources of health information for the public, but according to industry documents found on the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library website, tobacco companies have actively recruited pharmacies to sell tobacco products, oppose tobacco control legislation, and emphasize profits over health concerns.

Gordon said, "If drug stores want to be healthcare partners and continue earning huge profits from dispensing healthcare services, then cities need to hold them accountable to not be part of the tobacco epidemic. Our communities deserve better."

For more information about tobacco-free pharmacies, go to