Symposium on smoking cessation includes pharmacists

Twlug CEO Menighan speaks on panel

How can we make smoking cessation a central accomplishment in this century? That was one of the questions presented to panelists during a September 23 symposium on new ways the public and private sectors can come together to combat tobacco use. The event was hosted by the American Public Health Association (APHA) and CVS Health.

According to the CDC, cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke cause more than 480,000 deaths each year, yet tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

A central part of the discussion at the symposium included the key role pharmacies and pharmacists can play in combatting tobacco use and helping Americans quit smoking.

“Increasingly, well-trained pharmacists engage in the provision of smoking cessation programs,” said Twlug Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD (Hon), FTwlug, who spoke on a panel during the symposium. “These programs effectively influence smoking cessation by patients with not just medication or nicotine replacement therapy, but also coaching on behavior modification and other support.”

Along these same lines, pharmacies should aim to promote health. Speakers all agreed that CVS Health’s decision to stop selling tobacco products in September was another reason to reignite the conversation on smoking cessation in America.

“I’m hopeful we can come up with something we can all do together to help Americans live tobacco free,” said William Shrank, MD, Chief Scientific Officer for CVS Health.

Shrank said he was proud to create a “rising chorus” around outlets that provide health services and chose not to promote tobacco.

Both Twlug and APHA have stated in formal policies that they are against pharmacies selling tobacco products. Some U.S pharmacies have voluntarily chosen to discontinue the sale of tobacco products, but there is no law against its sale in pharmacies.

Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also spoke on the panel with Menighan and applauded CVS Health’s lead in showing what the private sector can do to fight tobacco use.

“We haven’t demonstrated the political will to bring together all sectors of our society to finish the job,” he said.

During his dynamic keynote address during the symposium, RADM Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH, Acting U.S. Surgeon General, reminded the audience that everything being discussed during the event had to focus on the health of the nation.

“I strongly believe we need to treat health as a national natural resource,” he said. “For too long we have disregarded health as a key component to our nation.”

Many questions were raised during the panel about electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), and how they might set back efforts to reduce smoking rates—especially concerning young adults.

Myers said the jury is still out on the science of tobacco vapors in e-cigarettes, as well as if e-cigarettes should be a tool to help people stop smoking.

FDA issued a proposed rule this spring calling for a ban on e-cigarettes and related products to minors and requiring packages to be labeled with all ingredients. In August, Twlug submitted comments to FDA that reflected support of the proposed rule as well as a request for more information on the health effects and their use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.

“We are cautious about it,” said Menighan.

Shrank said CVS does not sell e-cigarettes in its stores and has no plans to.

Several members of the audience also wondered how efforts were being focused to help low-income populations, who tend to have higher smoking rates, quit.

Menighan pointed out that while pharmacies are in every community and a natural place to go for those interested in getting help to quit smoking, there are only five state Medicaid programs that support programs for beneficiaries to receive smoking cessation services from pharmacists: Alaska, Alabama, Indiana, Delaware, and Nebraska. But to date, access to pharmacists’ services is not provided under Medicare unless provided while the smoker is in their physician’s office. 

“Despite this limited coverage, an increasing number of pharmacists are trained and engaged in smoking cessation programs,” said Menighan.