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CVS Health’s Larry Merlo joins panel discussion on tobacco sales at retail
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following CVS Health’s bold move to stop selling tobacco products in all of its stores, president and CEO Larry Merlo, joined public health advocates and researchers on Tuesday for a roundtable discussion on tobacco sales and marketing at retail stores.
Legacy, a national public health organization known for the national “truth” youth smoking prevention campaign, hosted the discussion, which focused on how Big Tobacco's point-of-sale advertising and incentives contribute to the tobacco epidemic.
The event, which was held at the Newseum, Knight Studio in Washington, D.C. and also webcast, is part of the Kenneth E. Warner Series Lectures at Legacy.
“On the heels of CVS’ bold move to take tobacco off the shelves last month and the release of the Point of Sale to the Nation in June, today we will take an in-depth look at tobacco retail and point-of-sale activity and discuss the importance of implementing effective retail policies,” said Legacy CEO and president, Robin Koval, in the opening remarks. “The topic is really both a challenge and an opportunity for public health advocates working to minimize the impact of Big Tobacco’s reach.”
According the Point of Sale to the Nation report, 36 states in the United States mandate tobacco retailer licensing. Researchers state that, without a nationwide mandatory licensing system for tobacco retailers, it is impossible to know how many tobacco retailers operate in the United States. Researchers estimate that there are 374,584 retailers in the contiguous United States. Relative to consumer demand for tobacco products, the number of tobacco retailers is excessive, the report states.
“The tobacco industry spends most of its marketing budget at the POS. The tobacco industry uses the strategic placement of products, price promotions and price discounts, signage and functional items containing product logos, and the products themselves to advertise and market tobacco products. Marketing and advertising in the POS is ever-present, yet policies to restrict advertising and promotions at the POS are largely underused in the U.S.,” the report states.
Researchers recommended that, “Given the national tobacco retail and policy environment, states and communities should consider POS policies as a core strategy of tobacco control.”
When asked by moderator, Toni Clarke, Reuters’ FDA reporter, about the evolution of CVS Health’s decision to pull the plug on tobacco Merlo said, “We saw an opportunity as a company to play a bigger role in a growing healthcare delivery system. At the same time, that contradiction for us of selling tobacco in environment where healthcare is being delivered we saw that as a contradiction to our purpose of helping people on their path to better health. And, quite frankly, as a barrier to establishing new partnerships that are emerging in this new healthcare delivery system.”
Merlo also stated that, while it is a short-term financial headwind, the move is right for the long-term growth of the company.
When asked about what may be holding other company’s back from making a similar move, aside from the financial impact, Merlo said, “As long as I have been in the this business pharmacies, to a large degree, have offered tobacco products. … I think those that continue to sell tobacco and operate pharmacies are going to have to go through the same process that we went through. … We’ve got an evolving healthcare delivery system and I think the role of pharmacy is changing to be the front line of healthcare.”
Additional panelists included —
• Thomas R. Kirchner, research investigator, Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies; Assistant Professor (adjunct) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Georgetown University Medical Center;
• Kurt Ribisl, professor of Health Behavior, University of North Carolina, Gillings School of Public Health; and
• Elizabeth Kilgore, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, director of communications, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control