Consumer News

Prescription Drugs And Cigarettes Purchased Together At Pharmacies, Even When They Could Make The Patient More Sick

Cigarettes
Many people who go to pharmacies to refill prescriptions for diseases exacerbated by smoking also buy a pack of cigarettes before they leave. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Tobacco is a hell of a drug. About 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, according to the American Cancer Society, yet only four to seven percent of them actually do. There are many reasons a person gets addicted to tobacco, and it’s not only the nicotine. Some smoke to get rid of stress, while others do it in social situations — either way, it leads to the same outcome. The drug is so addicting, however, that even those who shouldn’t be smoking are doing just that. Such people include the ones in a new study, which found that trips to the pharmacy for a prescription drug refill were often accompanied by purchasing a pack of cigarettes.

The findings most likely form the basis for CVS Caremark’s decision in February to end sales of cigarettes at all 7,600 retail pharmacy stores in the United States. That’s because the study was funded by a grant from CVS Health to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Regardless, CVS has good intentions. The study found that many people who went to CVS pharmacies to refill prescription drugs treating hypertension, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), as well as oral contraceptives, ended up leaving with a pack of cigarettes too. Each one of the diseases these pills treat — except for oral contraceptives — can be exacerbated through smoking. When it comes to contraceptives, there’s a higher risk of severe side effects among smokers.

“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of the company, in a press release in February. “The significant action we’re taking today by removing tobacco products from our retail shelves further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients, and health care providers.”

The study involved nearly 39,000 customers of CVS, all of whom were taking drugs like statins, contraceptives, and inhaled corticosteroids. Over the course of a year, the researchers monitored the customers through their loyalty cards, taking note of anyone who refilled a prescription and paid for a pack of cigarettes at the same time. In all, they found that one in 20 patients taking these meds also bought cigarettes at the pharmacy. Breaking it down, six percent of asthma/COPD drug users, 5.1 percent of antihypertensive drug users, and nearly five percent of oral contraceptive users also bought at least one pack of cigarettes.

Although the researchers admit that the purchases might not have actually been for the person taking the meds, they wrote in the study that their results still “highlight an opportunity to improve outcomes for patients receiving widely used treatments. The decision of some pharmacies, including CVS, to stop selling cigarettes has been met with widespread support from public health and medical organizations. Similar actions by other pharmacies may help prevent cigarette purchasing by individuals at greatest risk.”

Although these people may still end up going somewhere else to buy their cigarettes, it’s worth an effort on pharmacy companies’ parts. After all, smoking kills over 480,000 people annually, including those who inhale secondhand smoke.

Source: Krumme A, Choudhry N, Shrank W, et al. Cigarette Purchases at Pharmacies by Patients at High Risk of Smoking-Related Illness. JAMA Interlan Medicine. 2014. 

Loading...