CVS to Stop Selling Cigarette & Tobacco Products by Oct. 1

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(CNN) — 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% 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% of the population smoked, compared to 19% 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% 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% 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.

TM & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

22 comments

  • DayTripper

    “Wender said. He is convinced the removal of tobacco products from CVS/pharmacy locations will result in some smokers quitting,”

    What is a bold statement… lol… Smokers will just get them somewhere else. CVS should… they are quite costly there anyway.

    LOL

  • KB

    Hmmmmm……Discounts on Chantix, gum and patches won’t happen either considering they’ll be losing that 2 billion a year! Lol

  • Wake Up

    Well done! Hopefully this will be the start of other major retailers doing the same thing! The winds of change are blowing stronger!

  • KB

    I am a smoker and I wish EVERYONE would stop selling them!! I would love to quit for good and it is sooooo hard!!

    • DayTripper

      It is hard… I use to smoke… but watching my mother suffer emphysema and everything else that goes with it was enough for me to want to live. I just laid them down… it was a struggle but if you can make it at least 3days… you are on your way. Good luck to you….

    • Wake Up

      Obamacare requires that all insurance policies pay for smoking cessation programs without co-pays to the policy holder.

  • DayTripper

    Yeah… they thought stopping the purchase of sinus meds with out a state ID was going to stop the manufacturing of meth. Wow….

    The government is paid highly thru taxes on tobacco products…. it will never stop, smokers will smoke regardless of CVS’s decision to shoot themselves in the leg with what they say they are going to lose monetary wise…. so, I guess they will be raising prices on their other stock to make up for it. I can see an end for CVS everywhere in the future…

    • Wake Up

      I would gladly pay more for the other products if it means that a life will be saved by not being able to buy cigarettes. That is what it means to care about more than yourself.

      • Bill

        So you want to save lives. What about the unborn ,that planned parent hood is killing each day. Is that ok ? we know the unborns are not smoking.

      • Wake Up

        Bill, there is a debate concerning when life begins. Most people answer that question according to the beliefs taught by the church that they attend. When it comes to saving a life of an 15 year old that does not start smoking — there is no disagreement that that 15 year old is a life — no matter what church you attend!

      • Bill

        As so often you never answer the question ,I am glade democrats do not want a 15 year old to smoke ,but want the tax payers to pay for the 15 year olds birth control. but theres always plan parent hood options for the 15 year old. if you know what I mean!

    • Jim

      Well the State ID required for medications containing ingredients to make Meth has made it harder for people to buy large volumes of those products because it tracks the buyers and helps Law enforcement find the individuals doing that. Its a hassle but I support anything to stop drug interdiction. It does say alot that a company would do this considering its a 2 billion loss in sales, but it shows that they really care about their customers and will not be party in killing them incrementally over time with them supplying them the tobacco products..Good Move CVS I support all that you are doing…

  • KP

    I think this is an excellent thing! I will increase my shopping at CVS for this very reason, once the cigs are out of my local stores. And I’ll gladly pay more for products to support them in their decision! Way to go CVS!!!

  • Kat

    As an x-smoker, I think this is a great thing to do. I wish it would have been harder to buy cigarrettes when I was smoking. It would have been easier for me to quit. I will shop more at CVS now in support.

  • Gomez

    they should remove alcohol too. excellent decision by CVS. FYI: obumma care will go away after the 2014 elections. Democ(rats) will be removed along with obamanation care and impeachment articles will be filed. Ha! Ha!

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