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N.J. surgeon implores more companies to join CVS in pulling tobacco products from shelves

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CVS Caremark announced this week it will pull tobacco products off the shelves of its 7,600 stores nationwide.
CVS Caremark announced this week it will pull tobacco products off the shelves of its 7,600 stores nationwide. - ()

Dr. Arnold Baskies, a cancer surgeon with Virtua Medical Group in Moorestown who serves on the board of the American Cancer Society, was thrilled by CVS Caremark's decision to stop selling tobacco products. And maybe a little angry that others haven't followed its lead.

Baskies said this is the most advanced century in history, and yet: "14 years into this century, we realize if something isn't done significantly to halt the scourge of tobacco, 1 billion people on this planet are going to die (from smoking-related illnesses)," he said.

"(CVS' decision) is a very important first step for pharmacies in general and we would like to see it extended to every company that sells tobacco products," he said.

CVS made the announcement earlier this week that it would be pulling tobacco products off the shelves of some 7,600 stores around the country. More than 220 of those stores are located in New Jersey.

Baskies said pharmacies such as CVS are in a position to set an example — just as doctors did years ago.

"Half the doctors in the country smoked in the 1940s, and then physicians took a leadership position and said, 'How can we tell our patients to stop smoking if we don't?'" he said.

He also said New Jersey is not doing enough to discourage teenage smoking: "Once youth begin to smoke, it is almost impossible to stop it," he said.

Hackensack University Health Network issued public praise for the move earlier this week, calling it a "bold statement."

Richard P. Miller, chief executive of Virtua, also applauded CVS Caremark's decision.

"It's a lot of revenue to them, but if they are really going to tackle health and wellness, they have to walk the talk, and the company is doing that," Miller said.

Virtua has partnered for the past year with the CVS Caremark Minute Clinics in five of the pharmacy's South Jersey stores. Miller said two Virtua primary care physicians oversee the quality of care delivered by the Minute Clinics, which are staffed by nurse practitioners.

Miller said he is talking to CVS about providing smoking cessation and weight loss programs in the community.

"The future of health care really is going to be in wellness and prevention," Miller said. "That is where we will save the money down the road, by keeping people out of hospitals."

Beth Fitzgerald contributed reporting.

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