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Inspiring progress in US may lead way to smoke-free world

On Wednesday, the largest drug store chain in the United States stated its intention to stop selling cigarette products by October of this year. CVS Caremark explained its decision in a press release, saying that “cigarettes and providing health care just don't go together in the same setting.”

The New York Times quoted a market analyst as saying that CVS' decision is not likely to affect overall sales of tobacco because convenience stores account for two-thirds of tobacco sales.

Last month also saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Terry report, the landmark U.S. Surgeon General's report that presaged a shift in public thinking about and consumption of cigarettes. In the half century since, the number of smokers in the U.S. has declined from 42 percent of the population to 18 percent.

Concurrent advisories on the rate of smoking point out how serious the problem remains. Premature deaths caused by smoking globally will kill more than five million this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From lung cancer to heart disease to diabetes, the harmful effects of smoking have been established over and over again.

One of the great tensions between the obligation to safeguard the public good and modern day commerce is the fact that tobacco is allowed to be sold at all. Granted, there are historical reasons for the spread of tobacco, including its status as a key product in the mercantilist economy imperial powers used to exploit peoples of the world.

Thus, the entrenched position of tobacco as a central part of some people's lives, and the difficulty society encounters in rooting it out has to be placed in context that, realistically speaking, no country has yet been able to successfully declare cigarettes legally prohibited. Those who have done so, such as Qing China, did not see their success last.

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