DES MOINES, Iowa — A statewide group of health professionals and tobacco opponents used Thursday’s Great American Smokeout observance to launch a campaign calling on Hy-Vee to end the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, at any of its stores that have a pharmacy or health clinic on its premises.

Members of the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance said they hoped the Iowa-based retailer, which has 235 stores in Iowa and seven other Midwest states, would join the CVS Health national pharmacy chain, which earlier this year implemented a policy to end the sale of tobacco products in its stores — including 19 in Iowa. The chain has two stores in Muscatine with a pharmacy: Hy-Vee grocery store and  Hy-Vee Mainstreet.

The Alliance also urged Iowans to join the effort by signing a petition at www.iowatpa.org calling for Hy-Vee to end the sale of tobacco products.

Tara Deering-Hansen, director of corporate communications for Hy-Vee, said health and wellness “has been a major part of who Hy-Vee is” over the years and the employee-owned company shows that commitment through numerous healthy offerings in Hy-Vee stores and various community activities the company supports.

“As a retailer, we offer consumers a variety of products,” Deering-Hansen said in a statement issued Thursday, “we do not believe it is our role to police their personal decisions.

“We actively try to encourage customers’ healthy choices by keeping tobacco products behind courtesy counters and excluding them from marketing,” she added. “And in contrast, we visibly tout the convenient access to smoking cessation programs and products provided through our pharmacies and in-store dietitians and clinics.”

In approaching Hy-Vee officials about a change in tobacco policy, alliance members said they wanted to find an Iowa-based business to lead the charge against tobacco and its devastating health effects similarly to the way CVS demonstrated a commitment to the health and wellness of its customers and the communities it serves while also demonstrating that fighting the negative health effects of tobacco is a good business proposition.

“Helping Iowans quit smoking takes community leadership,” Dr. Christopher Squier, who is president of the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance’s board of directors, said in a statement. “By Hy-Vee ending the sale of tobacco products, it would reduce the availability and marketing of tobacco products, accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use and ultimately help more Iowans quit smoking. This is exactly what the Great American Smoke Out is designed to accomplish.”

According to an alliance news release, the statewide coalition members reached out to Hy-Vee earlier this fall to encourage the company to end the sale of tobacco products at stores with a pharmacy or health clinic, because Hy-Vee has made a commitment to health by taking a lead role in Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative — an effort designed to encourage individuals, businesses, organizations and communities to work together to improve Iowans’ overall health and well-being.

Hy-Vee did not respond to the alliance’s correspondence or offer to meet to discuss ending the sale of tobacco products at stores with pharmacies or health clinics, alliance members said. As a result, the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance decided to go public with its request.

Deering-Hansen noted that Hy-Vee has strived to make the HealthMarket section a focal point in many of its stores, strategically placing them near the pharmacy and dietitians to provide customers easy access to health and wellness information, products and services. Hy-Vee has 160 HealthMarkets and 220 dietitians in most of its stores, along with 243 pharmacies that include Hy-Vee Drugstores, pharmacy clinics and in-store pharmacies. The company, with more than $8.7 billion in sales annually, has been honored by Supermarket News with a Whole Health Enterprise Award for its leadership in providing services and programs that promote a healthy lifestyle, she added.

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