We all know pharmacies sell tobacco products, but did you know they are more likely to sell tobacco products in low income communities? –Hispanic communities in particular. According to new research from Rutgers University in New Jersey, the racial makeup of a community as well as its poverty level is an accurate way to predict whether or not someone can walk into the local pharmacy and buy a tobacco product.
And while it’s easy to blame “Big Tobacco” for the targeted marketing, pharmacies have the final say in what goes on store shelves. Just recently, CVS made the corporate decision to stop selling all tobacco products in their stores, a public health move that was championed by health advocates across the nation.
“Pharmacies are a critical component of the health care system and their role is contradicted by the sale of cigarettes, said Andrew Peterson, head researcher at Rutgers University in a statement.
It is against the ethics of pharmacists to sell a product that is among the top preventable causes of death in the world.”
According to the American Lung Association, smoking is considered a serious health issue among the Hispanic population in the U.S., despite the fact that Hispanics tend to have lower rates of cigarette use compared to most other racial and ethnic groups. Among Hispanic subgroups, however, cigarette use varies significantly, with Cubans and Puerto Ricans having the highest rates of cigarette smoking compared to Mexicans and Dominicans with the lowest rates.
Puerto Rican women are almost twice as likely as all other Hispanic women to smoke, and they are the most likely to smoke during pregnancy. Smoking is considered a significant risk factor for many of the top ten causes of death among U.S. Hispanics, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and chronic lower respiratory disease.
For the pharmacies in low-income neighborhoods, however, tobacco products bring in significant revenue. “It is the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, the authors wrote, that are targeted by pharmacies to sell addictive products, and the Latinos seem to be especially targeted in those neighborhoods.
Though the majority of pharmacists who were asked if they felt selling tobacco products was wrong indicated they agreed, more than two-thirds of the nation’s drug stores bring in billions of dollars annually in tobacco-only revenue.
For smaller pharmacies often located in urban areas, being the “go-to” place for tobacco can be the lifeblood of a store. When people don’t have to travel for cigarettes, they have more money to spend as a consumer.
“Cost is an important predictor of substance abuse, and higher costs are associated with a decline in use, said co-author Cory Morton.
“There is an increased search cost involved for the consumer who may now have to travel farther to get cigarettes. The cost of gas and of his or her time gets added to the price of the cigarettes, actually making them cost more.”
Hispanic and low-income communities are often the target for “unhealthy” marketing as many of these areas are lacking in health knowledge. Language barriers and limited access to healthcare keep Hispanics and other individuals in low-income settings unaware of the numerous health consequences of tobacco use.