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The one thing pharmacies could do to save thousands of lives

Many pharmacies sell products containing thousands of toxic chemicals and dozens of known carcinogens.

zombie walk

At least 53,566 pharmacies in 2016 stocked tobacco products, still the leading cause of preventable death and disease, killing more than 540,000 Americans each year. Among those stores selling tobacco is the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, Walgreens, which continues the practice despite repeated calls for the company to remove tobacco products from its shelves.

truth® is again calling for Walgreens to protect its customers and stop selling tobacco by staging a zombie-themed protest named “Not Happy or Healthy” after the company’s recently retired tagline, “at the corner of happy and healthy.” Young people dressed as the undead demonstrated at a Walgreens in downtown Washington, D.C. to symbolize the deadly health effects of tobacco products and why tobacco and pharmacies don’t mix. truth is also collecting signatures for an online petition and will attend the Walgreens shareholders meeting on Jan. 17 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

zombie walk

“This is an easy topic to sink your teeth into,” said protest participant Dan Fitzgerald, a 2016-17 Truth Initiative® youth activism fellow who has also organized zombie-themed demonstrations in his home state of Rhode Island. “Tobacco products have no place at a store selling you wellness. The profit to be made from selling deadly products cannot truly be worth it in the long run.”

The evidence of why Walgreens and all pharmacies should stop tobacco sales is clear.

The stores are contributing to more young people starting to smoke.

Pharmacies and other tobacco retailers not only sell products — they are the industry’s main marketing outlet. Virtually all of the tobacco industry’s more than $8 billion annual marketing expenditure goes to tobacco marketing in retail environments, including in-store advertisements, discounts and product displays behind checkout counters.

Tobacco retail marketing is linked to impulse purchases and an increased likelihood of young people starting to smoke. In fact, about one-third of teenage experimentation with smoking can be directly attributed to tobacco advertising and promotional activities in retail environments.

Pharmacies selling tobacco are making it harder for smokers to quit.

While Walgreens and other pharmacies tout their quit-smoking aids, they undermine those efforts by selling tobacco.

Research shows that tobacco marketing in stores is linked with decreased success for people attempting to quit. A study of smokers who had attempted to quit in the last six months found that the high visibility of tobacco product advertising in stores stymied attempts to quit. Another study found that higher exposure to in-store advertising and price promotion at the point of sale was associated with a lower probability of successful quitting among adult smokers.

Additionally, a year after CVS Pharmacy stopped selling tobacco in 2014, the company reported that cigarette purchases dropped a percentage point in states where the company has a large presence, and nicotine patch purchases rose 4 percent in those same states, “indicating that there was also a positive effect on attempts to quit smoking.”

There is large public support for removing tobacco from pharmacies.

A new Truth Initiative survey showed that nearly three-quarters – 73 percent – of Walgreens shoppers say the pharmacy chain should ban the sale of tobacco products. Eighty-two percent of Walgreens shoppers agree that “the primary focus of stores with pharmacies should be selling products that help people stay and get healthy.”

A 2014 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported wide-ranging support for removing tobacco from pharmacies. It showed that 66 percent of U.S. adults favor a ban on tobacco products in pharmacy stores, including nearly half of smokers.

The zombie-themed protest at Walgreens follows other Truth Initiative action on the subject. Last January, Truth Initiative called on the chain to stop selling tobacco with a rally outside of Walgreens’ annual shareholders meeting and a truth petition that collected more than 5,000 youth signatures.