Eckerd fires tobacco foe

The Eckerd Drug Company recently fired one of its Georgia employees, Elizabeth Estes, for refusing to train store associates to use “suggestive sales techniques” to increase cigarette sales to its customers (see “Cigarette Foe Loses Eckerd Job,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, Dec. 26, 2000).

“When a customer asks for a pack of cigarettes, they want the cashier to take out two packs of cigarettes, place them in front of the customer with a lighter, perhaps … and tell the customer they can save a little with a two-pack special,” said Estes, as reported in the Journal Constitution article.

Ms. Estes is a tobacco survivor. Both her parents were smokers; both died of tobacco-related illnesses. Knowing all too well that nicotine is addictive and cigarettes are lethal, Ms. Estes refused to participate in pushing a harmful drug.

A recent Gallup poll reported that 82 percent of all adult smokers in America want to quit smoking. And besides selling cigarettes, Eckerd itself also offers at least 21 products to help people kick the habit. A better sales policy might be to offer a stop-smoking product — instead of an additional pack — to customers who ask for cigarettes.

In a written statement defending Eckerd’s firing of Ms. Estes, the company declared that “Eckerd sells legal products that our customers want.” But I would ask the company to consider whether it is moral to sell a product, however “legal,” that is known to cause disability and death.

I would ask the company to consider whether the industry that legally markets nicotine is any different from the industry that markets the addictive drugs we criminalize — except for the political power, class and race of the profiteers.

And with more than four out of five smokers saying they want to quit, I would ask the company to consider whether these customers are indeed freely choosing to buy cigarettes — rather than succumbing to the power of an addiction fostered by the tobacco industry.

Ms. Estes told me that she was particularly appalled by Eckerd’s policy of pushing cigarettes because the company is a family-oriented enterprise. That statement shows her understanding of, and loyalty to, Eckerd’s stated mission. Her refusal to engage in pushing an addictive, lethal drug demonstrates her courage and her moral character — and her willingness to look beyond what is merely “legal” to what is true.

Ethics has been defined as “obedience to the unenforceable.” Rather than fire Ms. Estes, Eckerd would do better to place her in a leadership position to help ensure that the company operates according to a high moral standard.

Does Eckerd’s aggressive cigarette-sales policy extend to its stores in North Carolina? I ask Mountain Xpress to investigate. We need to know whether our family-oriented drugstores are indeed pushing an addictive drug.

I also invite the Xpress to investigate just how many Asheville-area residents are in fact tobacco survivors.

Anyone afflicted with one of the many tobacco-related illnesses — including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, throat cancer, oral cancer, cervical cancer and heart disease — is a “tobacco survivor.” And so is anyone who, like Estes, has at least one friend or family member dying or already dead due to tobacco-related illness.

Both my parents were heavy smokers for many years. Now my mother has emphysema and congestive heart failure; my father has had three heart attacks. But it wasn’t until I became aware of SAVE, a program of NC GASP, that I realized that both of my parents are sick with tobacco-related illnesses and that I, too, am a tobacco survivor.

Honestly, is there anyone who doesn’t have a friend or family member suffering from tobacco sickness — if they’re not already afflicted themselves? In this sense, we’re all tobacco survivors.

The question that remains is this: What amount of suffering would be avoided if we each acted with the moral courage that tobacco survivor Elizabeth Estes has demonstrated?

[Lisa Sarasohn is program coordinator for SAVE (Survivors and Victims of Tobacco Empowerment). SAVE helps survivors of tobacco-related illness educate young people about the dangers of using tobacco and advocates for smoke-free environments. SAVE is a project of the North Carolina Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution. For more information, visit www.tobaccosurvivors.org or call (828) 236-0110 or (888) 8-VOICES.]

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