Pack of smokes with that prescription?

Study finds 5% of at-risk patients buy cigarettes

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Talk about a prescription for trouble.

One in 20 pharmacy patients picking up a prescription to treat asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or high blood pressure made another surprising purchase while they were at their drug store – a pack of cigarettes.

Such seemingly counterproductive buying was documented in a group of CVS pharmacy customers between January 2011 and June 2012 and reported online this week by the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

How did the researchers find out? The patients’ CVS loyalty cards tattled about their buying habits – although no specific identities were revealed.

Six percent of patients taking meds for asthma and COPD made at least one cigarette purchase. So did 5.1 percent of patients taking anti-hypertension drugs and 4.8 percent of women over age 35 taking oral contraceptives – an average of one every other month.

Smoking, of course, can worsen respiratory illness and limit the effects of medications, raises blood pressure and raise the risk of a heart attack or blood clot in women taking the pill.

The study authors – from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and CVS Health – point out that the patients may not have used a loyalty card every time they bought smokes may have bought them elsewhere or for someone else.

But no matter what their intentions were, those loyal customers can no longer buy cigarettes at CVS – the company pulled tobacco products from shelves at its 7,700 stores last month, saying cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is delivered.

The authors said “similar actions by other pharmacies may help prevent cigarette purchasing by individuals at greatest risk.”

In addition to the new study, CVS Health funded a study released in September that showed policies enacted to eliminate sale of tobacco at retailers with pharmacies in San Francisco and Boston was linked with up to a 13.3 percent reduction in purchasers of tobacco products.

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