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CVS Health’s Larry Merlo joins panel discussion on tobacco sales at retail

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following CVS Health’s bold move to stop selling tobacco products in all of its stores, president and CEO Larry Merlo, joined public health advocates and researchers on Tuesday for a roundtable discussion on tobacco sales and marketing at retail stores.

Legacy, a national public health organization known for the national “truth” youth smoking prevention campaign, hosted the discussion, which focused on how Big Tobacco's point-of-sale advertising and incentives contribute to the tobacco epidemic.

The event, which was held at the Newseum, Knight Studio in Washington, D.C. and also webcast, is part of the Kenneth E. Warner Series Lectures at Legacy.

“On the heels of CVS’ bold move to take tobacco off the shelves last month and the release of the Point of Sale to the Nation in June, today we will take an in-depth look at tobacco retail and point-of-sale activity and discuss the importance of implementing effective retail policies,” said Legacy CEO and president, Robin Koval, in the opening remarks. “The topic is really both a challenge and an opportunity for public health advocates working to minimize the impact of Big Tobacco’s reach.”

According the Point of Sale to the Nation report, 36 states in the United States mandate tobacco retailer licensing. Researchers state that, without a nationwide mandatory licensing system for tobacco retailers, it is impossible to know how many tobacco retailers operate in the United States. Researchers estimate that there are 374,584 retailers in the contiguous United States. Relative to consumer demand for tobacco products, the number of tobacco retailers is excessive, the report states.

“The tobacco industry spends most of its marketing budget at the POS. The tobacco industry uses the strategic placement of products, price promotions and price discounts, signage and functional items containing product logos, and the products themselves to advertise and market tobacco products. Marketing and advertising in the POS is ever-present, yet policies to restrict advertising and promotions at the POS are largely underused in the U.S.,” the report states.

Researchers recommended that, “Given the national tobacco retail and policy environment, states and communities should consider POS policies as a core strategy of tobacco control.”

When asked by moderator, Toni Clarke, Reuters’ FDA reporter, about the evolution of CVS Health’s decision to pull the plug on tobacco Merlo said, “We saw an opportunity as a company to play a bigger role in a growing healthcare delivery system. At the same time, that contradiction for us of selling tobacco in environment where healthcare is being delivered we saw that as a contradiction to our purpose of helping people on their path to better health. And, quite frankly, as a barrier to establishing new partnerships that are emerging in this new healthcare delivery system.”

Merlo also stated that, while it is a short-term financial headwind, the move is right for the long-term growth of the company.

When asked about what may be holding other company’s back from making a similar move, aside from the financial impact, Merlo said, “As long as I have been in the this business pharmacies, to a large degree, have offered tobacco products. … I think those that continue to sell tobacco and operate pharmacies are going to have to go through the same process that we went through. … We’ve got an evolving healthcare delivery system and I think the role of pharmacy is changing to be the front line of healthcare.”

Additional panelists included —

• Thomas R. Kirchner, research investigator, Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies; Assistant Professor (adjunct) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Georgetown University Medical Center;

• Kurt Ribisl, professor of Health Behavior, University of North Carolina, Gillings School of Public Health; and

• Elizabeth Kilgore, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, director of communications, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control
 

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Balance Bar bares it all

BY Ryan Chavis

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. — Balance Bar, a maker of nutrition energy bars, launched its new Balance bare line. The bars — available in Mixed Berry Nut, Sea Salt Caramel Nut and Sweet and Spicy Nut — are made with whole nuts, fruits, seeds and other nutritious ingredients. The company is billing its new bars as the ideal health-conscious addition to an afternoon snack break. 
 
“More than half of Americans (53%) are snacking two or three times a day. One in every five eating occasions in the United States is a snack,” said Katia Facchetti, CMO, Balance Bar. “We want to make sure we’re offering plenty of smart snacking options with great taste and balanced nutrition. Balance bare is a great choice for a smart snack consumers can feel good about.”
 
Balance bare products are available for a manufacturers suggested retail price of $1.69. 
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Walgreens doubles number of preferred network relationships with Medicare Part D plans for 2015

BY Michael Johnsen

DEERFIELD, Ill. — With Medicare’s Annual Election Period set to begin Oct. 15, Walgreens on Tuesday announced it has more than doubled its preferred network relationships with national Medicare Part D plan sponsors for 2015 and will be a part of preferred networks for nine plan sponsors. The networks are designed to offer greater access to pharmacy services and cost savings opportunities.
 
“The Medicare population is growing rapidly, and by working closely with plan sponsors as a part of preferred pharmacy networks, we’re uniquely positioned to help meet the prescription drug needs of America’s seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries,” said Kermit Crawford, Walgreens president of pharmacy, health and wellness. “With a higher prevalence of chronic disease in the United States, along with the aging population, our pharmacists are playing an important role in health care, providing personalized care to help customers get, stay and live well.”
 
Walgreens will have preferred network relationships with six new Medicare Part D plan sponsors and PBMs who support them for 2015, including Express Scripts, which features Walgreens as the only national pharmacy chain in two of its prescription drug plans.
 
Other new preferred network relationships for 2015 include:
 
  • Cigna-HealthSpring;
  • EnvisionRx Plus;
  • Prime Therapeutics;
  • Providence Health Plan;
  • SilverScript; and
  • Renewed Preferred Networks
Walgreens will continue to be a part of preferred pharmacy networks with three national Medicare Part D plan sponsors, including Humana, UnitedHealthcare and WellCare. 
 
Walgreens is in the networks of hundreds of other Medicare prescription drug plans for 2015, in addition to participating in these preferred pharmacy networks. Walgreens offers free, personalized plan comparison reports online and at every location to help beneficiaries evaluate the plans that may best meet their prescription drug needs. 
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