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CVS Caremark Pharmacy Making Sense and Kicking Butts

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Mark Twain famously said, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times."

Today, the legendary American wit/writer would have an easier time of quitting smoking thanks to CVS Caremark's announcement last month that the ubiquitous, pharmacy-chain giant will stop selling cigarettes by Oct. 1 of this year. The move will help the Mark Twains of the world get on a track to better health and the retail giant will no longer be inconsistent with their message of promoting health at their pharmacies.

As the parent of young children, our family visits the CVS MinuteClinic with everything from a case of the sniffles to strep throat to dangerously high-fevers. With about 750 MinuteClinics -- making CVS the largest host of pharmacy clinics -- we are often standing in line holding prescriptions and medicines behind someone buying a carton of cigarettes.

It never made sense. And I applaud CVS for making sense now.

"Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS Pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health," said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO, CVS Caremark. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."

I imagine it wasn't an easy decision with the CVS executive estimating the cost to the Fortune 18-company potentially exceeding $2 billion annually in cigarette and tobacco sales. But considering the U.S. Surgeon General's report approximating the U.S. spends $132 billion a year treating smoking-related disease -- which is the leading cause of premature disease and death in America -- once again, CVS' bold move simply makes sense.

In addition, as a Latino leader who has a focus on healthcare through our Latinos On Fast Track (LOFT) Healthcare Track, I'm relieved and encouraged by CVS's big announcement. According to the Centers for Disease Control, "cancer and heart disease are the first and second leading causes of death, respectively, among Hispanic Americans." Both diseases are directly linked to smoking and, more tragically, secondhand smoke, which is also closely linked to asthma, especially among children. More than 3.6 million Latinos report they have asthma and Latino children are 40 percent more likely to perish from asthma than non-Hispanic whites. As Hispanics we are at risk as much any American is to the dangers of smoking.

What's more concerning is that Latinos continue to represent a growth market for tobacco companies. In an article by the researchers Lisbeth Iglesias-Rios and Mark Parascandola in the American Journal of Public Health titled, "A Historical Review of R.J. Reynolds' Strategies for Marketing Tobacco to Hispanics in the United States," they found the company had "developed a sophisticated surveillance system to track the market behavior of Hispanic smokers and understand their psychographics, cultural values, and attitudes. This information was translated into targeted marketing campaigns for the Winston and Camel brands. Marketing targeted toward Hispanics appealed to values and sponsored activities that could be perceived as legitimating." I'm sure part of that nefarious strategy included advertising and distribution at national retail chains such as CVS.

But not anymore...

I'm hopeful other pharmacies and retail giants will follow CVS's lead and start making sense if they are going to continue to remain in the health care space.

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