DES MOINES | 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.

They 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. The employee-owned company shows that commitment through numerous healthy offerings in Hy-Vee stores and various community activities the company supports, she said.

“As a retailer, we offer consumers a variety of products,” Deering-Hansen said in a statement 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.

“Helping Iowans quit smoking takes community leadership,” said Dr. Christopher Squier, president of the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance’s board of directors, 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, 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.

Hy-Vee did not respond to the alliance’s correspondence and 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.

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