CVS Caremark stores to stop selling tobacco

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Want to pick up a pack of cigarettes with your prescription refill? A major U.S. pharmacy chain is breaking that habit.

CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its CVS/pharmacy stores by October 1 of this year.

The retailer said the move makes CVS/pharmacy the first chain of national pharmacies to take tobacco products off the shelves.

"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," Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."

CVS Caremark is the largest pharmacy in the United States based on total prescription revenue, according to the company. It operates more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide, in addition to more than 800 MinuteClinics, which are medical clinics within the pharmacy locations.

Health-oriented organizations praised the move.

"This is an important, bold public health decision by a major retail pharmacy to act on the long understood reality that blending providing health care and providing cigarettes just doesn't match," said Dr. Richard Wender, chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society.

Stopping cigarette sales comes at a price. CVS Caremark estimates it will take an annual loss of $2 billion from tobacco shoppers.

The company has enjoyed growing revenues in recent years, boosted by its pharmacy services business and prescription drug sales.

CVS Caremark hasn't reported its year-end results yet, but it took in nearly $94 billion in revenues in the first nine months of 2013, up slightly from the same period in 2012, according to its most recent earnings report.

In 2012, CVS Caremark reported $123.1 billion in revenues, a 15 percent jump from $107.1 billion the previous year.

Helping people quit

The company also announced Wednesday that it plans to launch a national smoking cessation program in the spring. This will include information and treatment on smoking cessation at CVS/pharmacy and Minute Clinic locations, in addition to online resources.

Members of the pharmacy benefit management plan will be able to access comprehensive programs to help themselves stop smoking.

Fewer people smoke today than in the mid-20th century, but there are still a lot of Americans lighting up. In 1965, 42 percent of the population smoked, compared to 19 percent today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say the decline in smoking has plateaued.

It's no secret that tobacco causes health problems. Here's a refresher: Cancer, stroke, heart disease and lung diseases are among the results of smoking, according to the CDC . More than 5 million deaths per year are caused by tobacco use. Smokers also tend to die 10 years before nonsmokers, according to the CDC.

Support from public health advocates

The company's announcement is "a huge step toward our country being able to have a really long-lasting culture of health," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest U.S. philanthropy devoted to public health.

In addition to eliminating a point of sale of tobacco, CVS Caremark's removal of tobacco products also takes away an advertising opportunity, said Robin Koval, president and CEO of Legacy, an organization that conducts research on tobacco use. Young people who shop at CVS/pharmacy for other reasons will no longer see the array of tobacco products available.

"It's obviously a landmark decision and one that I hope wakes up the entire retail industry that it's the right thing to do," Koval said.

A report from the California Department of Public Health found that while total cigarette sales decreased between 2005 and 2009 in the United States, sales in pharmacies increased. If sales of cigarettes at pharmacies continue rising at the current rate, by 2020 almost 15 percent of all cigarette sales in the United States will occur at pharmacies, the report said.

According to a 2011 study in Los Angeles, cited in the report, more than 32 percent of pharmacies sold cigarettes, and traditional chain pharmacies were far more likely to sell cigarettes than independently owned pharmacies.

Wender also noted that the CVS move is in line with what the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association and American Pharmacists Association have advocated for previously: To stop sales of tobacco in retail outlets with pharmacies.

On the other side of the issue, there is a lot of money in tobacco. The cigarette industry spent $8.37 billion in 2011 on advertising and promotions, according to the CDC.

Most tobacco is sold in convenience stores, which would be "a tougher nut to crack" in terms of stopping tobacco sales, Wender said.

But pharmacies are a good place to start, Wender said. He is convinced the removal of tobacco products from CVS/pharmacy locations will result in some smokers quitting, particularly those who have a habit of buying their cigarettes there.

"It's going to force every one of them to pause and say, 'Why isn't my CVS selling cigarettes anymore?' " Wender said.

21 comments

  • FaithC

    I am surprised that a company making so much money from cigarette sales would just stop selling them. Glad they took a stand for good health.

  • Godisgood1899

    So you can still let the person come in they may already be drunk to buy their booze, then get in their car and go kill someone but lets end the cigarettes….I don’t smoke but it is not fair for the ones that do. There are a 1000 more things on those shelves bad for us all you just can’t pull one thing. If a person wants to smoke it is their decision, just like any of the decisions that are bad for us when we buy other products there…

  • Melrose

    I already shop at Walgreens–left CVS long ago. I went to get a prescription filled at the CVS on Florida Street in Greensboro. While standing there, I observed the same scenario on every pharmacy patron. The first thing they did was look in the “alphabetized bins”, no prescription to be found. Next, they went to the computer to check the prescription, after which, they would seach through numerous filled prescriptions that were stacked on top of the bin rack. After rifling through several bags, they would take one down and hand it to the customer. After seeing this scenario play out over the course of the 7 or 8 people in front of me and in the drive-thru, I moved my prescription to Walgreens, and contacted the DM for CVS and told them that if they did not do better, they were going to kill someone.

  • Will Grant

    The company is awfully self-congratulatory about stopping selling cigs after years and years. All the usual phags are of course in favor of this…”public health advocates” and Obumma the smoker, etc.

  • Former CVS Patron

    I’ll give CVS 3 years before they begin to close stores. What they do not realize, is that many of the smokers buy there because of the convenience of getting their items there, along with their cigarette purchases. Once they realize they no longer have the convenience of purchasing their cigarettes along with other non-medical items, they will simply opt to make their purchases at another venue that still provides that convenience. Contrary to popular belief, most smokers are not idiots. They understand the risks of smoking, just like drinkers understand the risks of driving after consuming alcohol, and they accept those risks. Most smokers are employed full time and are productive on their jobs. The primary thing about smoking is that it’s a habit-forming choice, just as is alcohol.

    However, there are many other items CVS needs to cease selling, if they are truly committed to “increasing the health” of their patrons: potato chips, candy, cosmetics, chewing gum, all soft drinks and sweeten beverages, as they are loaded with harmful ingredients; all photo development solutions, electronic items, and anything wrapped in plastic, as these items adds to harmful environment waste; all weightloss products as they contain artificial stimulates that can cause heart issues. They should also cease selling vitamin products as it was recently reported by the CDC that they contain very little of the actual vitamins and are primarily placebos.

  • Former CVS Patron

    Additionally, in the name of ‘health’, CVS should stop selling alcoholic beverages, hair colorings, caustic cleaning and drain-opening solutions; halogen and CFL light bulbs , as these contian mercury that is harmful to humans and the environment, items made of plastic, including their loyalty cards (many will now clog the landfill), water in plastic bottles, as they contain BPH, another harmful chemical.

    I’ll make it easy for you, CVS–just close down already….

  • deanna

    ok I see your point—don’t sell products that can kill so are you …CVS…going to take a stand and stop selling the day after pill….that kills too…but the babies don’t have a say

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