May 14, 2019

An open letter to Walgreens regarding tobacco sales

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Dear Mr. Pessina: 

The Board of Directors of Healthy Active Arkansas is a group of senior healthcare, public health and community leaders in the state who are committed to improving the health of our citizens. In keeping with that mission, we are sending you this letter, along with our partners ArCOP and AFMC. 

Walgreens is a major pharmacy presence in Arkansas, with a seemingly ever-expanding number of stores across the state. This growth would be a positive thing, if Walgreens were truly committed to improving health and health care access. 

However, your comments in the March 31, 2019 Wall Street Journal under “Walgreens isn’t Ready to Quit Cigarette Sales Yet” gives us considerable pause to question your commitment to the health of Arkansans—and all Americans. 

In 2014, your major competitor, CVS, made headlines when they stopped selling tobacco, and their business is flourishing. Currently, they are opening new stores across Arkansas, often within sight of Walgreens stores. CVS has something in common with independent pharmacies: in Arkansas, virtually none of them sell tobacco products. 

Your quotes in the recent Wall Street Journal article are especially contradictory to your stated mission of improving health. You said, “The safety of our patients is very important.” In reality, selling tobacco, which you know sickens and kills your customers who use it, doesn’t demonstrate commitment to their safety. 

“We have to do what our customers are requiring us to do,” you said, in reference to why you sell cigarettes. Your customers do not require you to sell tobacco any more than those of CVS or your other competitors. The biggest step you could take to improve the health and safety of your patients is to end tobacco sales and replace them with smoking cessation products. 

In addition to the obvious health benefit to your customers, we would point out one more reason to stop selling tobacco. Walgreens was cited recently for a finding that about 25% of its stores were found to be selling tobacco to underage minors. Stopping the sale of tobacco would very effectively solve that problem for Walgreens. 

We urge you, Mr. Pessina, to rethink the need for Walgreens to sell tobacco. Selling tobacco in one part of the store, while dispensing medication to patients fighting diseases related to or caused by smoking elsewhere in the store, is an inexplicable contradiction. An organization that is “trusted,” as your tagline suggests, would not engage in such practices. 

We look forward to your thoughtful response to our request. 


Troy Wells
President, Healthy Active Arkansas 

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