Locally owned pharmacies around McHenry County removed cigarette products from their shelves years, and even decades, before the CVS retail chain garnered national attention and presidential praise for making a similar decision last month.
CVS, the country’s top-selling pharmacy chain, announced that it would forgo about $2 billion in annual revenue and drop cigarette and other tobacco products from its stores by October.
Company executives last month emphasized that the product-line contradicted the pharmacy’s mission of being a health care provider to consumers.
In the McHenry County area, however, pharmacists and drugstore owners are wondering why it took corporate retailers so long to catch up.
“We’ve always believed that cigarettes have no place in the pharmacy,” said Parag Maniar, who owns the Hampshire Pharmacy. “We try to teach our customers that you have to quit smoking. When you are trying to sell it, it sends a mixed signal.”
Maniar never has sold tobacco products since opening the local pharmacy in Hampshire three years ago.
His pharmacy in Genoa also doesn’t include cigarette and other tobacco products.
The decision has drawn questions from customers, who tell Maniar that cigarette products would help drive traffic to the store.
But he isn’t tempted by profit margins.
A pharmacy’s role is to educate consumers about products that are harmful to their health – not promote those products, he said.
“I would like to hold the pharmacy to a higher standard, saying we will strictly be a health care business,” Maniar said. “We would like to keep it that way.”
Pharmacist Terry Bruner said Wauconda Pharmacy was “light years ahead of those big chains,” when the local store decided to drop tobacco products 20 years ago. Bruner’s wife owns the local drugstore, which has operated in Wauconda for decades.
The store made the decision strictly for consumer health reasons, he said.
“If we are selling them cigarettes, they are back with pneumonia or getting their inhaler or an oxygen tank the next week,” Bruner said. “If you need to make money selling tobacco, then you need to find a different business.”
Business competition is one reason why Brandt’s Pharmacy in Marengo stopped selling tobacco products a decade ago.
The downtown Marengo store started seeing customers gravitate to nearby gas stations and taverns for their smokes, Manager Brenda Courtney said. The store’s tobacco sales consequently under-performed.
“It wasn’t worth having on the shelf,” she said.
The local area pharmacies aren’t alone. Smaller, independent pharmacies across the nation started removing tobacco products from stores 20 to 30 years ago, said John Norton, public relations director for the National Community Pharmacists Association.
The Washington, D.C.-based association represents about 1,700 local and regional pharmacies in Illinois. The association always has urged its members to keep cigarettes and other tobacco products out of stores, Norton said.
“A lot of our members have long embraced this decision that health care providers and tobacco products are not a part of the same equation,” he said.