More than 50 people from across the country rallied outside of the Walgreens shareholders meeting in New York City on January 26 to push the pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products.

Truth Initiative® organized the rally to call on the Walgreens Board of Directors to allow a shareholder vote on whether to conduct a study on the consequences of continuing to sell tobacco. In August, a group of Walgreens shareholders petitioned the pharmacy’s board of directors to let the shareholders vote on the matter at the meeting, but executives blocked the vote from taking place.

Rally participants included Truth Initiative Youth Activism Fellows and Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Initiative student leaders, as well as representatives from NYC Smoke-Free and Reality Check of New York.

Youth Activism Fellow Justin Reid attended the shareholder meeting and pointedly asked the executive chairman of the Walgreens board about their decision to sell tobacco. “If you truly want to address the root causes of smoking, wouldn’t that be to take tobacco products off the shelves?” asked Reid, referring to a statement from Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso, who told Drug Topics, “We firmly believe that the most effective step retail pharmacies can take to help smokers quit is to address the root causes of smoking, which go far beyond the small percentage of smokers who access this product at pharmacies.” Reid’s question was one of six questions relating to tobacco out of a total of eight.

This event, which received coverage from New York stations NY1 News and WCBS radio, follows other Truth Initiative youth activism on this topic. truth® organized a petition that collected over 5,300 youth signatures, and partnered with on an effort that engaged more than 67,000 young people to encourage pharmacies to remove tobacco products from their stores. Partner organizations Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights also organized petitions to call on Walgreens to get rid of tobacco products.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that 66 percent of U.S. adults favor a ban on tobacco products in pharmacy stores, including nearly half of smokers. Tobacco is still the number one preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 1,300 people each day.