Pharmacies located in low-income and Latino communities are more likely to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, a new study shows.
“Pharmacies are a critical component of the health care system and their role is contradicted by the sale of cigarettes,” says Andrew Peterson, associate professor of social work at Rutgers. “It is against the ethics of pharmacists to sell a product that is among the top preventable causes of death in the world.”
An analysis of the geographic distribution of pharmacies selling tobacco products combined administrative data, including pharmacy licenses and tobacco retail licenses, with US census data and applied geospatial analytics to measure the relationship between people’s access to pharmacies that sold tobacco products and their neighborhoods’ socio-demographic characteristics.
The findings are published in the journal GIScience and Remote Sensing.
Peterson commends the recent decision by pharmacy chain CVS Caremark to ban the sale of cigarettes starting October 1 at its more than 7,600 stores, a decision that will cause the company to lose $2 billion in annual revenue.
Betting on health care
As pharmacies increasingly position themselves as health care providers that offer a variety of services, including flu shots and in-store clinics, Peterson thinks CVS made a strategic business decision that it believes in the long run will be more profitable.
“They are also making a business decision to bet on the future of the health care industry rather than the future of the tobacco industry,” he says.
Previous research indicates that while most pharmacists don’t think that cigarettes and other tobacco products should be sold, two-thirds of pharmacies continue to earn billions in revenue in tobacco sales. Smaller, independently owned pharmacies, are more likely to choose to not sell them.
The researchers’ next line of study will be to focus on what it will take for other pharmacies to follow the lead of CVS, and what communities can do to encourage a ban on cigarettes at their local pharmacies.
Peterson also reports that smoking rates are often lower in communities where there are fewer stores selling tobacco products.
“Cost is an important predictor of substance abuse, and higher costs are associated with a decline in use,” says former doctoral student Cory Morton.
“There is an increased search cost involved for the consumer who may now have to travel farther to get cigarettes. The cost of gas and of his or her time gets added to the price of the cigarettes, actually making them cost more.”