Students successfully lobbied CVS Pharmacy stores that keep condoms locked up to display some condoms in the open for those who may be too embarrassed to ask.
The group of students, who call themselves “Save Lives, Free the Condoms,” are from a School of Public Health graduate class – Community of Organization, Development and Advocacy. They began their campaign in response to a practice of several D.C.-area CVS pharmacies to keep condoms behind lock and key. A CVS official said the security measures were made because of high theft of the products in some stores.
The group said this prevents people from purchasing the prophylactics because they have to ring a bell and ask for the condoms.
“It is personal and people don’t usually like discussing their sex lives with others,” said graduate student Ellen Sowala, a leading member of the student group. “It is even more embarrassing to have to get someone’s attention to get condoms when it’s a personal decision in the first place.”
Sowala said the worst aspect of the practice is that it is most common in impoverished areas.
“CVS is locking up condoms in areas where minority populations are majority and where poverty rates are extremely high,” Sowala said.
The students met with managers at CVS locations to ask them about the policy. Sowala said some managers understood that the potential to decrease transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is more important than saving money from theft.
The group persuaded the stores to keep popular varieties outside of the locked display. All of the stores with locked condoms will have smaller displays with lower-count boxes in the open by Dec. 1 – the date the group negotiated because it is World AIDS Day. Some stores have already implemented this policy.
Sowala said Rite Aid and Eckerd pharmacies have already vowed to keep condoms unlocked.
Boxes with a larger number of condoms will continue to be locked up to reduce losses to theft. Sowala said the money lost should not be an issue.
“Concern shouldn’t be how much money they are making on condoms, but on the safety of the surrounding community and if they are able to access condoms,” she said.
Mike DeAngelis, CVS corporate communications manager, said if the entire condom offering was unlocked the store would never have the condoms in stock anyway because of theft.
“They’re locked in stores that have had a high shoplifting rate. A lot of times it’s not individuals; it’s actually organized retail theft,” he said. “What this will do is still allow us to protect the large-count boxes … but still have a small display.”
He said the locked display is only present in stores with targeted retail theft, which happens to occur in low-income areas.
“We always try to listen to our customers and the community. We need to strike a balance between our products and customer needs,” DeAngelis added.
Winnie Cantor, a Georgetown freshman, said he doesn’t understand why locking up condoms is a concern.
“I think it’s fair to lock up if people are actually stealing, because I think if one is mature enough to have sex, they are mature enough to ask for condoms.”