Wednesday’s surprise announcement by pharmacy chain CVS that it will remove cigarettes from its shelves by October has attracted a lot of praise, and deservedly so. The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain sells $2 billion worth of cigarettes every year, but determined it could no longer peddle such a lethal product under the same roof as health supplies — especially as the company broadens its efforts, through its MinuteClinics, to become a provider of basic health care. President Obama, a recovering smoker, hailed the Rhode Island-based chain for “a choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country.”
Some of the praise showered on CVS, though, ought to be shared with cities that years ago started putting pressure on drugstores to halt tobacco sales. San Francisco was the first municipality in the US to ban cigarette sales in drugstores; the Boston Public Health Commission was next in 2009. Needham, Newton, and other Massachusetts towns followed. Although each individual ban may have had little effect, together they sent the message that tobacco wasn’t compatible with medical care. CVS certainly deserves credit for seeing the writing on the wall, but Boston and other municipalities deserve some credit for putting it there.