Rutgers Affiliates Examine Tobacco Sales in Pharmacies

Photo by Michelle Klejmont |

A study by Rutgers affiliates reveals that a pharmacy’s decision to sell tobacco and addictive products relies on demographics.

Each year, the United States sees nearly 438,000 premature deaths, $157 billion worth of health-related costs and loss of labor linked to tobacco use, according to the American Cancer Society.

The American Pharmacists Association has stated that mass displays of cigarettes in pharmacies directly contradict the role of the pharmacy as a public health facility. 

Although most hospitals and health facilities around the nation prohibit the sale of tobacco, many pharmacies carry tobacco and other potentially harmful products on their shelves. 

Andrew Peterson, associate professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work, and Cory Morton, a former Rutgers doctoral student, sought to answer why many pharmacies carry addictive or unhealthy products.

Together, they conducted the first nationwide study analyzing the geographical distribution of pharmacies selling a number of products that they classified as addictive: tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.

They concluded that a pharmacy’s decision to sell tobacco is correlated with the type of pharmacy and the population demographics of the area where the pharmacy is located.

Peterson and Morton applied multilevel modeling procedures with data from 115 community pharmacies in Passaic County and 382 residential census tracts to determine two sets of variables, retail type and population demographics.

Their overreaching goal was to identify the socioeconomic strategies of both pharmacies and the tobacco industry, Morton said. 

Peterson and Morton found that pharmacies in the southern end of the county, where the most low-income neighborhoods and Latino citizens are located, were more likely to sell tobacco products.

The tobacco industry tends to market directly to minority groups because smoking is statistically associated with lower income individuals.

The majority of pharmacies observed in the study carried at least cigarettes.

While only 1.4 percent of the pharmacies observed sold all three products, 35.7 percent of them sold tobacco alone. 

This illuminates a problematic disconnect between health commissions and tobacco products, Morton said. 

Peterson declined to comment directly on the results of the study. 

In a Rutgers Today article, Peterson said it is against the ethics of pharmacists to sell a product that is among the top preventable causes of death in the world.

Cathryn Potter, dean and professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work, said this research could ultimately help us understand how access to tobacco, a known risk factor for addiction, can be affected by poverty and ethnicity. 

Accessibility to community pharmacies selling tobacco and other addictive products decreases as a particular census group’s median household income increases, the data analysis revealed.

The type of pharmacy was also a signi?cant predictor of whether tobacco products were sold, according to Morton’s study. 

The results showed that chain, mass merchandise or grocery store pharmacies were much more likely to sell tobacco than locally owned pharmacies.

These types of pharmacies are typically more concerned with consumer demand and less concerned with promoting good health.

Independently owned pharmacies are less likely to carry tobacco because they are often owned by pharmacists themselves, who may be concerned about reputation damage caused by promoting the use of a health-damaging product. 

Morton hopes the study’s results will inspire more people to question the sale of tobacco in pharmacies. 

The research is especially timely given the recent decision of CVS pharmacies to stop selling tobacco products in all of its stores, Potter said. 

Morton said this decision could cause the company to lose about $5 billion in annual revenue.

Although this will be economically disadvantageous to CVS as a business, Morton said the company is fulfilling an important moral obligation. 

“They made the decision that they were going to be a health provider,” he said.

Managers of the Walmart in North Brunswick and the Rite Aid on George Street declined to comment. 

Carley Ens

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