Until last fall, condom-buyers at many CVS locations were required to ask a grumbling attendant to leave the counter, trudge to the back aisle, and take out a selection from a locked case. Public health students at George Washington University didn’t think anyone should endure that, especially since D.C. has the highest AIDS rates in the country. Last October, they confronted CVS management with a survey showing that the 20 stores with locked displays were in the neighborhoods with the most cases of AIDS.
The drugstore chain promised a change and responded by installing displays called “power wings,” which let a customer take out one package at a time. CVS has also installed displays that dispense a package when you pull a lever.
But that hasn’t satisfied the students—-they claim that the people and the rubbers are still being kept apart. “We’re saying that, having power wing or no power wing, it doesn’t work,” says Shumaya Ali, a health communications graduate student. “CVS has a mission that says it will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for people to use…and it just contradicts everything they are doing with locking condoms.”
Ali’s group, Save Lives: Free the Condoms, argues that the one-package dispensers—-which hold a limited selection of brands—-are inadequate. “People still want other brands, and they have to go and ask,” says Carolyn Watson, a public health graduate student. “They just have to grin and bear it, so to speak.” The group also found in April that 11 stores were still locking their inventory. CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis says that isn’t the case now. “There are no CVS stores where condoms are completely behind a locked display,” he says.