On February 7, 2019, the now former FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, filed a complaint seeking a No Tobacco Sales Order (NTSO) for a Walgreens location in Miami, FL. A primary concern expressed in Dr. Gottlieb’s statement is that Walgreens–a health-and-wellness-minded business–has racked up almost 1800 violations for selling any tobacco product to minors since 2010. While all retailers have the power to prevent illegal sales to minors, and should have comprehensive training programs in place for their employees, Walgreens is being singled out due to its standing as the second largest pharmacy in the U.S.; second only to CVS, which chose to discontinue sales of all tobacco products, including low-risk products such as vapor and smokeless tobacco products in 2014.
We write in response to escalating calls for Walgreens to discontinue sales of ALL tobacco products–including safer alternatives to combustible tobacco. While we take no position on the sale of combustible tobacco products, we believe that Walgreens recognizes the tremendous potential of safer nicotine products to benefit public health, and we urge you to continue the sale of smoke-free tobacco and nicotine products.
The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit consumer organization with an all-volunteer board of directors and a grassroots membership of more than 250,000 individuals from all walks of life. We are dedicated to ensuring the availability of low-risk alternatives to smoking, and to providing the public with honest information about safer nicotine and tobacco products. Since our founding in 2009, we have educated the public and increased awareness about the benefits of low-risk alternatives to smoking, including vapor products and smokeless tobacco. We advocate for responsible policies designed to improve public health by recognizing that smoke-free nicotine-containing products are inherently safer than smoking. We believe that harm reduction is a necessary strategy to substantially reduce the disease and early death attributed to smoking.
Pursuant to our mission, CASAA is publicly stating our support for Walgreens and all other retailers that choose to sell low-risk, smoke-free alternatives to combustible tobacco products, including vapor products and smokeless tobacco. We believe that Walgreens has an opportunity to strike a balance between promoting safer alternatives to combustible tobacco to people who smoke while, at the same time, implementing common sense–yet robust–age verification protocols at the point of sale.
According to a recent study examining smoking cessation efficacy published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who use vapor products in combination with smoking cessation counseling are twice as likely to stop smoking completely compared to those who use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in combination with counseling. Similarly, researchers from the School of Population Health at The University of Queensland studying smokeless tobacco state that switching to a smoke-free product “can realise substantial health gains,” and that switching completely to smokeless tobacco “could produce a net benefit to health at the population level if it is adopted in sufficient numbers.” We believe that prominently featuring smoke-free tobacco and nicotine products to people who smoke supports Walgreens’ goal of promoting the health and well-being of the customers and communities it serves.
Many people who currently smoke, or used to smoke, live in areas where, due to socioeconomic factors, there is a lack of specialty vapor or tobacco retailers that carry these low-risk products. With over 9,500 stores across the United States, Walgreens has the ability to provide these safer alternatives to people who may otherwise not have access.
For the foregoing reasons CASAA strongly encourages Walgreens to resist calls for removing tobacco products from its stores. Instead, we urge Walgreens and other large retailers to continue offering low-risk alternatives to smoking to their customers and recommend featuring these products more prominently than combustible tobacco products.