CVS/pharmacy to end cigarette, tobacco product sales

February 5, 2014 by Jared Hunt
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CVS Caremark announced this morning it will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores by Oct. 1.  The company is the first national pharmacy retail chain to end tobacco sales at its stores.  (Target announced it would stop selling tobacco in 1996.)

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said in the press release. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.

“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners,” Merlo said. “The significant action we’re taking today by removing tobacco products from our retail shelves further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients and health care providers and better positions us for continued growth in the evolving health care marketplace.”

In a video posted on the company’s website, Merlo said, “Tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is delivered.”

The company has 50 stores in West Virginia. All will have to pull tobacco products by Oct. 1.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published an online article this morning highlighting the paradox of pharmacies that sell tobacco products. Excerpts from that article:

There is little doubt that reducing the morbidity and mortality from tobacco use remains one of the most important public health challenges of the 21st century. More than 480 000 deaths occur annually in the United States as a result of smoking. There is essentially no such thing as moderate use of tobacco, which fuels addiction and illness, with enormous costs to society: $132 billion in direct medical costs and $157 billion in lost productivity, according to recent estimates.

Studies have demonstrated a relationship between tobacco use and geographic density of stores that sell cigarettes. More important, reducing the density of tobacco outlets probably reduces smoking among young people—a key intervention, given the number of smokers who start before 21 years of age.

Advocates have long questioned the juxtaposition of the distribution of medications for promoting health with the sale of the single most deadly consumer product. Making cigarettes available in pharmacies in essence “renormalizes” the product by sending the subtle message that it cannot be all that unhealthy if it is available for purchase where medicines are sold. The argument that pharmacies also sell tobacco-cessation products only heightens the paradox. This is primarily a US problem: pharmacies in other developed countries do not sell cigarettes.

The paradox of cigarette sales in pharmacies has become even more relevant recently, in large part because of changes in the pharmacy industry. Responding to the overall shortage of primary care practitioners in the United States and to recent legislation that expands access to health care coverage, most pharmacy chains are retooling themselves as an integral part of the health care system. They are offering more counseling by pharmacists, an array of wellness products, and outreach to clinicians and health care centers. For example, Rite Aid has developed a new wellness-store format, and Walgreens is testing a “health and daily living” design. In this context, the sale of tobacco products seems contradictory, especially because pharmacists can provide nicotine-replacement distribution and counseling. Moreover, the usual excuses for selling tobacco products in pharmacies, such as avoiding sales to minors and keeping cigarettes behind the counter, become much less convincing as pharmacies expand their role in health care.

Perhaps more important, pharmacies are moving into the treatment arena with the advent of retail health clinics. More than 1600 such clinics are operated by Walgreens, CVS Caremark, Rite Aid, Target (which does not sell cigarettes), Walmart, and many chain grocery stores. The clinics are designed to offer an alternative to routine care by office-based physicians. Yet nowhere else in health care are tobacco products available in the same setting where diseases are being diagnosed and treated. These retail clinics, originally designed to address common acute infections, are gearing up to work with primary care clinicians to assist in treating hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes—all conditions exacerbated by smoking.

This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes. But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain. Moreover, if people understand that retail outlets that plan to promote health, provide pharmacy services, and house retail clinics are no longer going to sell tobacco products, the social unacceptability of tobacco use will be substantially reinforced—indeed, the continued sale would appear to sanction the most unhealthy habit a person can maintain. If pharmacies do not make this effort voluntarily, federal or state regulatory action would be appropriate.

The Affordable Care Act increases health care coverage, but that coverage comes with a price. Any and all efforts to promote public health and reduce the burden of disease are greatly needed. Reducing smoking rates would have those effects, and removing cigarettes from retail pharmacies and grocery or other stores that contain pharmacies can only help in that regard; it would certainly contribute to the denormalization required to further reduce smoking rates. In lieu of regulation, pharmacies, grocery chains, and mass retailers that wish to promote the goal of better health should recognize the fact that selling tobacco products contradicts the commitment to health care.

President Barack Obama released a statement on Twitter this morning praising the CVS move:

Obama: “I applaud this morning’s news that @CVS_Extra has decided to stop selling cigarettes…in its stores.” pic.twitter.com/PAbM3AHkmv

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 5, 2014

 

Bridge Road restaurants using bottled water

January 27, 2014 by Jared Hunt
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The Bridge Road Neighborhood Association this morning provided an update regarding which restaurants in its area were using bottled water/soda for food preparation and drinks with meals.  The updates were compiled from owners and managers of local eateries.  Here’s the current status of the restaurants, according to the association:

From the Wheelhouse:  Hello everyone!! Wheelhouse is preparing all recipes with bottled water.  We are serving Bottled water and canned drinks. Our fountain machine is turned off at this time. Our tea and coffee is made with Bottled water as well. I plan on using Bottled water at The Wheelhouse until that I feel that it is safe.  As soon as my family and I decide to drink this water is when I will serve it to my customers. Thank you, Tina VanBibber 

From Anne Arbaugh at SH Market & Café:  We are using bottled water for all cooking, hot drinks (coffee/tea) and are making our flavored iced tea with bottled water. We are not using our fountain for sodas, but providing bottled waters and sodas. We are going to continue until the levels of the chemical are non-detectable.  Thank you for your support, Anne.

From Sandy Call, General Manger of The BR Bistro:  Thank you for looking out for the Businesses of Bridge Road! We are more than happy to tell you that we here at the Bistro- have and will continue to serve Bottled/canned H20 to our guest. We are cooking/preparing our cuisine with only distilled water. We will continue this procedure until well past Valentines’ Day-especially after hearing about the second chemical that was found.   We use canned soda only-not the fountain or guns. Although Coke has changed filters-we don’t want to take any chances.  Our Ice is filtered 7 times to clear out any impurities. Basically anything ingested we use water from Tyler Mountain that is shipped in from PA.  We have chosen to not serve Coffee or Iced Tea at this time. Our system runs from the buildings water source. Sunday Brunch we will make coffee from bottled water. Kindest Regards, Sandy

From Nick Husson at Husson’s:  Greetings! As for Husson’s Pizza, we use bottled water for any cooking.

Any vegetables we wash are washed bottled water. We have bottled drinks available (water and soft drinks.) We do have our crushed ice and fountain drinks available, but both use tap water. Thanks!  Nicholas Husson

From Lola’s:  Good morning, At Lola’s we are using bottled water for everything including washing our dishes.  We are using disposable plates, silverware, and cups to make this a little easier for us to do.  All sodas are coming from cans or bottles.  We have discontinued using our soda lines indefinitely.  If you are on Facebook take a look at our Lola’s page – what protocol we are following and why.  Thanks for spreading the word for.  Cary Charbonniez

From Sarah’s Bakery: Bottled water for cooking and drinking.

Daily Mail reporter Matt Murphy also has a complete listing of area restaurants using bottled water or other sources over on his blog.

Charleston Area Alliance Launches #BacktoBizCWV Campaign

January 14, 2014 by Jared Hunt
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The Charleston Area Alliance is launching a “Back to Business Charlie West” campaign “to let the world know that nothing can keep us down.”  The campaign will use social media and other tools to help get the word out that area businesses are reopening and local workers are returning to their jobs.

Here’s the press release from the Alliance:

ALLIANCE LAUNCHES “BACK TO BUSINESS CHARLIE WEST” CAMPAIGN

 As water is restored to the Charleston area, residents and businesses are demonstrating the great resiliency for which West Virginians are known for by picking up right where they left off. Businesses are reopening, people are going back to work and children will soon be back in school.

The Charleston Area Alliance encourages all businesses and residents to let the world know that nothing can keep us down by participating in a “Back to Business Charlie West” campaign.

The campaign features a logo, media outreach, Facebook, Twitter and other social media communications, and upcoming educational forums to help companies get back to business. We invite businesses, whether they were closed or not, to display the attached flyer in their windows as a sign of solidarity with their community.

Stickers and printed posters will be available at the Alliance offices in the next few days. Individuals are invited to display the same flyers in their windows at home.

Businesses should use the following Twitter hashtag to let their followers know that they have reopened: #BacktoBizCWV. Workers can let their friends know they’re back on the job with the same hashtag. Shoppers and diners can express their appreciation for businesses impacted by the water crisis using the hashtag.

“When things can look their worst, West Virginians are at their best. We couldn’t be prouder of our community, and as the region’s economic and community development organization, as well as the largest regional chamber of commerce in West Virginia, we’re committed to helping our businesses and people get back to work,” said Alliance President/CEO Matt Ballard.

From Montgomery to Sissonville, Pinch to Clendenin – let the area know that it’s “Back to Business Charlie West.”

The campaign is one of several being launched to encourage people to get out and support local businesses following the Freedom Industries chemical spill and water shutdown.

Local lawmakers are encouraging people to visit local restaurants and other service establishments and ‘turn up the tips’ to help affected workers recoup some of their losses from when businesses were forced to shut down.

The United Way of Central West Virginia has also launched a fundraising campaign to help affected workers pay utility bills in the coming months.

Click on the story links for more information about those campaigns.

 

IRS adjusts 2014 tax benefits, rate schedules for inflation

November 4, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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Last week, the Social Security Administration announced the 2014 Social Security cost-of-living benefit adjustment to account for (relatively tame) inflation over the last year.

The Internal Revenue Service followed suit at the end of last week, announcing inflation adjustments for the 2014 tax year. The adjustments affect some tax rate income thresholds, while also increasing the amount of some deductions and credits.

In a press release last week, the agency detailed the effect of the changes on tax items that tend to be of greatest interest to most taxpayers. They include:

  • The standard deduction rises to $6,200 for singles and married persons filing separate returns and $12,400 for married couples filing jointly, up from $6,100 and $12,200, respectively, for tax year 2013. The standard deduction for heads of household rises to $9,100, up from $8,950.
  • The limitation for itemized deductions claimed on tax year 2014 returns of individuals begins with incomes of $254,200 or more ($305,050 for married couples filing jointly).
  • The personal exemption rises to $3,950, up from the 2013 exemption of $3,900. However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $254,200 ($305,050 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $376,700 ($427,550 for married couples filing jointly.)
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2014 is $52,800 ($82,100, for married couples filing jointly). The 2013 exemption amount was $51,900 ($80,800 for married couples filing jointly).
  • The tax rate of 39.6 percent affects singles whose income exceeds $406,750 ($457,600 for married taxpayers filing a joint return), up from $400,000 and $450,000, respectively. The other marginal rates – 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent – and the related income tax thresholds are described in the revenue procedure.
  • The maximum Earned Income Credit amount is $6,143 for taxpayers filing jointly who have 3 or more qualifying children, up from a total of $6,044 for tax year 2013. The revenue procedure has a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds and phaseouts.
  • Estates of decedents who die during 2014 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,340,000, up from a total of $5,250,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2013.
  • The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000 for 2014.
  • The annual dollar limit on employee contributions to employer-sponsored healthcare flexible spending arrangements (FSA) remains unchanged at $2,500.
  • The foreign earned income exclusion rises to $99,200 for tax year 2014, up from $97,600, for 2013.
  • The small employer health insurance credit provides that the maximum credit is phased out based on the employer’s number of full-time equivalent employees in excess of 10 and the employer’s average annual wages in excess of $25,400 for tax year 2014, up from $25,000 for 2013.

For more detail on these inflation adjustments and others not listed, you can view the full copy of Revenue Procedure 2013-35 on the IRS’s website.

Bankers Association clears up shutdown facts

October 4, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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The West Virginia Bankers Association is trying to get word out about the potential effects — or lack thereof — of the government shutdown on the local banking system.

This afternoon, the association issued the following fact sheet about the status of many government agencies that help the nation’s banking and finance systems operate:

Facts on Government Shutdown’s Effect on Banking in West Virginia

The government shutdown has raised some consumer concerns regarding its effect on access to their money and other banking services. Here is a list of answers to some of the more frequent questions:

  • Deposits are safe. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will continue to insure deposits. This protection is provided through insurance fees paid by banks and is not subject to the federal budget.
  • Social Security and Medicare payments will continue. Both are funded by payroll taxes and will continue to make payments, including direct deposits, during the shutdown.
  • Most loans are still available. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are largely unaffected by the shutdown as their operations are funded by fees to lenders so most loans will continue to be available to consumers. This same scenario applies to VA loans.
  • Government-guarantee loans may be unavailable. There seems to be conflicting information on this. However, sources available to the WVBA indicate the Farm Service Agency (part of the Department of Agriculture), Federal Housing Administration and Small Business Administration will process loans at a reduced rate which may create a backlog and could keep banks from offering consumers these products. This does not apply to Fannie or Freddie (see above point).
  • Banks will continue to be regulated. The primary banking regulators Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will all remain open as they are not subject to the federal budget.

Bankers across the state are already working with their customers as issues and concerns stemming from the government shutdown are raised. However, the majority of customers and bank services offered will not be affected by this national event.

For more information, you can follow the Bankers Association on Twitter at @wvbankers, or visit www.wvbankers.org.

 

Chemical Accident Investigators Furloughed During Shutdown

October 2, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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In light of this morning’s chlorine leak & shelter-in-place at the Clearon Corp. plant in South Charleston, I sent a general message to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board — the independent federal agency tasked with investigating chemical accidents in order to protect workers, the public and the environment — asking if this was an incident they would respond to, or if their operations have been affected by the shutdown.

The agency already has a general message on their website that says, “At this time, Congress has not enacted an appropriation or a continuing resolution for the CSB.”

CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz emailed the following in response to my question:

Jared the agency has effectively shut down and all chemical accident investigators have been furloughed.  We have a skeleton crew of 3 people on duty, to reopen the agency whenever that is warranted.

Thanks

Daniel


Daniel M. Horowitz, Ph.D.
Managing Director
U.S. Chemical Safety Board

 

 

Shutdown: Lies, (Darn) Lies and NO Statistics

October 1, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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I’m not going to get into the political talk about the government shutdown (you can visit these guys for that), however, I did want to post one way the federal government shutdown will affect the business community.

Each month, businesses and economists digest a regular landslide of data in order to evaluate overall economic conditions. Well, a lot of that data comes from (currently furloughed) government statisticians. One of the more important data points is the government’s monthly employment report, which is usually released the first Friday of each month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is already saying this will be delayed.

About an hour ago, I received the Associated General Contractors of America’s monthly construction spending e-mail for August. I’ll paste it below.  Bottom line: It has no information and the association feels the government shutdown could have a negative effect on construction spending this month.

CONSTRUCTION SPENDING IN AUGUST IS… UNKNOWN BECAUSE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AS INDUSTRY’S RECOVERY IS THREATENED

Total construction spending hit an unknown level in August because the Census Bureau was unable to release new data as a result of the federal government shutdown according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned that the impacts of the shutdown will go beyond data as solicitations for many new construction projects come to a halt.

“It is hard to get a sense of where the industry is heading when basic construction spending data isn’t available,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Unfortunately, the lack of federal spending data likely foreshadows a decline in federal construction spending until the government reopens.”

Association officials urged members of Congress to quickly resolve the political impasse that resulted in a federal shutdown starting today. They warned that solicitations for new federal construction projects will be delayed until the federal government reopens. In addition, other federal construction projects may be delayed as many federal supervisors will not be available to answer questions, approve change orders.

“Depending on how long the government is closed, construction workers are likely to miss out on new job opportunities,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “This shutdown poses a real risk of undermining the industry’s long-awaited recovery.”

PS – The title of this blog post was a spin on this Mark Twain quote (or this episode of The West Wing).

Blog: WVU West Virginia Economic Outlook Conference

October 1, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics is having their annual West Virginia Economic Outlook Conference this morning at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.  On tap, we have Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond economist Andy Bauer to speak about the 2014 forecast for the U.S. economy. Later this morning, John Deskins, director of the college’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research will detail the school’s 2014 forecast for West Virginia, followed by a panel of business and state representatives to discuss issues and challenges facing the state’s economy in the coming year.

The conference lasts through noon today, so keep checking back and following along for updates.

Newspaper inserts boost unclaimed property claims

September 20, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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And now some good news for the newspaper industry: State Treasurer John Perdue said Friday his office has seen a strong public response to its recent unclaimed property newspaper advertisement, which ran as an insert in newspapers across the state between Aug. 27 and Sept. 12.

The annual inserts list many of the people who have unclaimed property — usually leftover cash from old bank accounts, insurance payouts, etc. — on file with the Treasurer’s Office. (I say “many of the people” because the actual number of people on file is rather large, so it gets condensed for the print insert.)

According to a news release from Perdue’s office, the number of people filing to claim their property each day has nearly tripled following the advertisement.  (Electronic claims can be filed at the Treasurer’s website, www.wvtreasury.com.)

From the news release:

The inserts ran statewide in newspapers from Aug. 27 to Sept. 12. The 60-day period from July 1 to Aug. 31 showed a total of 317 electronic claims filed, while 254 e-claims were filed from only Sept. 1 to Sept. 18 — the time period most affected by the advertisement’s release.

In the 60-day period from July 1 to Aug. 31, slightly more than five e-claims were filed a day. During the first 18 days of September, that number jumped to about 14 a day, a near triple-fold increase.

The release also said the dollar amount of e-claims under processing jumped 48 percent since the beginning of the month, increasing from $2,382 to $3,530 by Sept. 18.

Electronic claims made up about 58 percent of the total claims filed in August in September. People can also file claims on paper, either by mail or in person at the Treasurer’s Office.

The release said paper claims spiked from one per day from July 1 through Aug. 31, to an average of 5 and a half each day during the first half of September.

Now, I could tell you this demonstrates how effective newspaper advertising can be even in our 21st Century digital age. But since I’m obviously a little biased in that area, I’ll just let “Big John Perdue” say it for me:

“This further verifies the efficacy of publishing the inserts twice a year, so folks either see their name or tell a friend or neighbor that they have seen their name,” said Treasurer Perdue. “From there, more and more people are choosing to visit our website, where they may file a claim without exchanging paper through the mail.”

 

Blog: WV Chamber of Commerce Summit, Day 2

August 29, 2013 by Jared Hunt
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Hello, welcome back.  I’m here at day 2 of the state Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Summit. We’ve got several presentations lined up before lunch, and I hope — HOPE — to be able to live blog all of it.  Apologies to those who tuned in yesterday. The Wi-Fi access died mid-afternoon and I lost my ability to post.  You can check out the main Daily Mail site for  a wrap-up of some of the highlights.