By Matt Montgomery
The second largest pharmacy chain in the United States, CVS, announced that it would be phasing out the sale of tobacco products, Feb. 5, at all locations nationwide, with sales stopping completely by October.
More people in Oklahoma have started using vapor cigarettes and quit smoking altogether.
The Vapor Junkie in El Reno said they have noticed a lot more people coming in that want to switch from cigarettes to vapor because of doctors’ orders, a better flavor or just so they can smoke something that isn’t harmful to their lungs.
Vapor Junkie owner Will Rice opened the original Vapor Junkie in Yukon in December 2012. He said he opened the store in part to help people quit smoking.
Rice said most of his customers come into the stores to quit smoking or to quit dipping tobacco. He said once in a while customers come in who like the taste of vapor, but the majorities are those who wanted to quit smoking.
“A good 90 percent of them (customers) are doing it because they want to quit smoking,” Rice said.
When a customer comes in the store, they are asked how many cigarettes they were smoking per day. Based on the amount of cigarettes they smoked and the type determines the amount of nicotine that goes into the vapor juice they buy.
Rice said he thinks a lot more people will go from cigarettes to vapor more often.
“More people definitely want to quit,” he said. “I know people that have been vaping for a year or two and they still haven’t quit, but they’ve gone down basically to the lowest level. They breathe better and a lot of them have actually started working out and exercising. Before, they couldn’t even jog down the street. Now, they’re back to doing all that stuff, before they couldn’t do that because of their lungs.”
Rice dismissed rumors that vapors are as bad as cigarettes. Rice said he has several customers whose doctors have told them to start vaping instead of smoking cigarettes.
He said vapor juice is made with propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavoring.
Even though smoking rates have been decreasing over the past 50 years, tobacco is still a $100 billion industry, and CVS stands to lose $2 billion in revenue by discontinuing tobacco sales.
In a press release announcing the change, CVS Caremark President and CEO Larry J. Merlo stated, “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
In Canadian County, several independent pharmacies have never allowed tobacco sales. These include Krittenbbrink Pharmacy in Okarche, United Pharmacy in Yukon, Piedmont Pharmacy and Gifts in Piedmont, Ruke’s Pharmacy and Canadian Valley Pharmacy in El Reno and Miller Drug in Surrey Hills.
Chris Miller, owner and registered pharmacist of Miller Drug in Surrey Hills said he can’t understand why CVS ever stocked and sold cigarettes to begin with.
“I don’t understand why they ever had them to start with,” Miller said. “The Surgeon General has said the health risk causes cancer for years. I can’t understand why a health care provider would stock something like that which has no medicinal purpose, but has severe medical risk.”
Piedmont Pharmacy owner and registered pharmacist John Smith said Piedmont Pharmacy has also never sold cigarettes.
“I think (cigarettes) was a thing of the past,” Smith said. “Drug stores were always a place you could buy cigarettes, but I think with just knowing now what it does to your health, pharmacies aren’t any place that they need to be sold.”
Okarche’s Krittenbrink Pharmacy owner and registered pharmacist Steve Krittenbrink said Krittenbrink Pharmacy has never sold tobacco products and never will.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Krittenbrink said. “Those bigger places like that have always had the attitude that if they don’t get it here, they’ll just go buy it someplace else.”
He said all of the bigger chains like CVS just used tobacco to draw customers into the store to buy other things. He said he’s heard that tobacco sales at a place like CVS weren’t all that high.
He said when he worked at a pharmacy in Emproia, Kan. back in the ‘70s, they sold tobacco products and made just a few cents off of each pack of cigarettes sold.
Craig McAlister, owner of Conrad Marr in Yukon also supports CVS’ new policy. “Our store made the decision to no longer sell tobacco in 2000. Even though selling tobacco was a common practice in pharmacies, we took a step back and realized it was counterproductive to our goal of trying to get people healthy, so we decided to no longer sell tobacco products.”
Members of the Canadian County Against Tobacco coalition welcomed the announcement from CVS as a sign of progress in the fight against tobacco.
In Oklahoma, more than 6,000 people die each year from preventable, tobacco related death. And more than 3,400 kids under age 18 pick up the habit each year.
Miller Drug owner Chris Miller
Vapor Junkie owner Will Rice
“The tobacco industry spends an incredible amount of money in Oklahoma to get kids to start smoking and to keep adults from quitting,” said Jenny Kellbach, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator for Canadian County. “By reducing the number of places tobacco products are sold, we are also reducing the marketing power the tobacco industry has. Over time, this can make tobacco products less acceptable and protect our citizens from unnecessary health problems and loss of life.”