Austin
4:42 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

CVS Decision to Drop Cigarettes Reverberates in Austin

On Wednesday, the CVS Pharmacy chain announced that on Oct. 1, all locations would cease selling cigarettes and tobacco products.

With nearly 13 percent of Austin adults calling themselves active smokers, the decision could have a lasting effect on the city.

The move was applauded by entities including the American Cancer Society and the White House. Dr. Philip Huang, medical director for Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, has similar praises for the pharmacy chain.

"I really applaud CVS for doing that," Huang says. "It’s the right thing to do. A lot of people have always thought, 'How can a pharmacy that’s selling medications and trying to help people get better and healthier – how can they be selling this product that is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in our country?' That doesn’t make sense."

CVS has 25 stores on the Austin region.

According to a 2013 report [PDF] from the Texas Department of State Health Services, an estimated 20.6 percent of adults in the U.S. are current smokers, based on statistics provided by the CDC Office on Smoking and Health in 2010.

On the state level, 15.8 percent of adults smoked based on the same data from 2010. This was a rather large decrease from the rate of smokers in Texas in the past decade, which had stayed around 22 percent.

Zooming further in, Austin has a lower smoker rate than the state as a whole. According to data compiled by Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCC) in 2011, 12.8 percent of adults smoked in Austin. That's down from a rate of 19.3 percent that the TPCC reported for 2003 to 2007.

Since May 2005, smoking has been banned from inside restaurants, bars and concert venues in Austin. In 2012, UT became complete tobacco-free, prohibiting smoking inside campus buildings and anywhere on university grounds.

"We’ve worked with a lot of employers around the community," Huang says: "Dell Computer, National Instruments, Samsung, 3M; all of those have gone [to a] 100 percent tobacco free campus." The number of deaths in Travis County attributable to tobacco can seem shocking – even to a medical professional such as Huang.

"We’ve been looking at our own local data, and we had estimated that it was almost 600 people each year that die of tobacco related illness, just in Travis County," Huang says. "But we’ve been looking at the monthly data from our death certificates information. Just from looking at death certificates in Austin area, where the certifier noted that tobacco use probably did contribute to the death, just last month we had 90 deaths that were identified that could be attributable to tobacco."

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