US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin, Senate Democrats Urge Top Cigarette Retailer to Remove Tobacco Products From Stores

Friday, February 14, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following last week’s announcement that CVS Caremark would begin removing tobacco products from its more than 7,600 U.S. stores, seven United States Senators today urged Walmart – the number one retailer of cigarettes in the country – to do the same, and stop selling tobacco products in its stores.

Today’s letter was signed by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee along with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

“We understand that – as your predecessor Lee Scott put it – “there are still a tremendous number of [Walmart] customers who smoke.”  However, we are also well aware that three quarters of adult smokers want to quit. In fact, 85 percent of smokers say they have tried to quit at least once.  By eliminating tobacco sales in your stores and further promoting cessation products, you can do an extraordinary service for the 100,000,000 customers that shop in your U.S.  stores every week and send a critical message to all Americans – and especially children – about the dangers of tobacco use,” the Senators wrote.

Earlier this week, Durbin, Harkin, Reed, Whitehouse, Boxer, Brown, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sent similar letters to Walgreens, Rite Aid Corporation, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores urging the chain drug stores to follow CVS’ example and remove tobacco products from their shelves. More information on those letters is available here.

In urging Walmart to remove tobacco products from their shelves, the Senators cited the nearly half a million tobacco-related deaths and staggering health costs related to tobacco use. “The impact of tobacco on our nation’s children is impossible to ignore – 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed. These findings highlight the critical need for all sectors of our community to play a role in ending the unnecessary disease and death that results from tobacco use.”

Removing tobacco products from store shelves and promoting tobacco cessation efforts will complement federal efforts to reduce unnecessary deaths and skyrocketing health care costs. These efforts include the continued implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the ongoing success of public awareness campaigns like CDC’s “Tips from a Former Smoker” and FDA’s new “The Real Cost” campaign, and access to smoking cessation therapies with no out-of-pocket costs under the Affordable Care Act.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of death in the United States. Every year, tobacco use kills over 440,000 Americans – accounting for one in five deaths. The U.S. Surgeon General, the CDC, and the National Cancer Institute have concluded that tobacco causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung diseases. According to a recent Surgeon General’s report, smoking costs the United States between $289 billion and $333 billion each year in health care expenses and lost productivity.

Text of today’s letter is available below.

 

February 14, 2014 

 

Doug McMillon

President and Chief Executive Officer

Walmart

702 SW 8th Street

Bentonville, AR 72716-8611

Dear Mr. McMillon,

We write to urge Walmart, as the number one retailer of cigarettes in the country, to stop selling tobacco products in all of its stores. As you know, earlier this month CVS Caremark announced that it will cease the sale of tobacco products in all 7,600 of its stores. Since then, we’ve urged other chain drug stores to follow CVS Caremark’s bold and admirable lead. We recognize the legality of selling and profiting from tobacco products; however, Walmart’s position as the nation’s largest retailer of any kind puts your company in a unique position to contribute to the health and well-being of all Americans. 

We understand that – as your predecessor Lee Scott put it – “there are still a tremendous number of [Walmart] customers who smoke.” However, we are also well aware that three quarters of adult smokers want to quit. In fact, 85 percent of smokers say they have tried to quit at least once. By eliminating tobacco sales in your stores and further promoting cessation products, you can do an extraordinary service for the 100,000,000 customers that shop in your U.S. stores every week and send a critical message to all Americans – and especially children – about the dangers of tobacco use. 

CVS Caremark’s historic announcement came on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, and new revelations in the latest Surgeon General’s report that smoking is even more hazardous and takes an even greater toll on the nation’s health than previously known. Smoking kills 480,000 Americans annually, sickens millions more, and costs the nation more than $289 billion every year. The impact of tobacco on our nation’s children is impossible to ignore – 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed. These findings highlight the critical need for all sectors of our community to play a role in ending the unnecessary disease and death that results from tobacco use.

Continued efforts within the private sector will complement federal efforts to save lives and reduce health care costs. Government-led efforts such as tobacco taxes, implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, smoking cessation therapies provided with no out-of-pocket expenses under the Affordable Care Act, and public awareness campaigns like CDC’s “Tips from a Former Smoker” and FDA’s new “The Real Cost” campaign are valuable tools in our public health arsenal.  However, we believe private industry has an important role to play in tobacco control and prevention efforts.

In recognition of the 8.6 million Americans who currently suffer from smoking-caused illnesses, we hope you will join this national effort to end the scourge of tobacco use. We look forward to working with you in a joint effort to promote the health of all Americans. 

###

More Press from the Chairman