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W.Va. officials welcome CVS tobacco ban

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The move by the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain to remove tobacco products from its stores can only be good news for the state with the second-highest rate of smokers in the nation, according to West Virginia health professionals.

On Wednesday, CVS Health, formerly CVS Caremark, announced that it had pulled tobacco products from the shelves of its 7,600 pharmacy locations nationwide. There are 50 CVS stores in West Virginia, according to its website, including two in Charleston, four in Huntington and four in Parkersburg.

“CVS’s corporate stance is one that now positions them to be more responsible in regard to health,” said Bruce Adkins, director of the Division of Tobacco Prevention for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. “They are a major provider in the United States and in West Virginia, and they’re a health-care company, so their corporate stance is that they want to promote health.”

According to Rahul Gupta, chief health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and co-author of a recent paper centered on smoking rates in the Mountain State, CVS’s decision is just a piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one.

“This is a starting step. When the second-largest chain of pharmacies starts to take pro-health steps like this, they’re sending a message to not only their competitors, but to consumers,” Gupta said. “This is the right thing to do.”

Despite progress made across the country to curtail smoking rates in recent years, West Virginia’s percentage of smokers has remained relatively constant. The national smoking rate declined from 20 percent to 12.3 percent of the population between 1995 and 2010; West Virginia’s smoking rate in 1995 was 23.7 percent, and decreased slightly in 2005, to 21.3, before returning to roughly 23 percent in 2010.

The comparatively low tax rate West Virginia places on tobacco products might be another piece of that puzzle…

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