By Shirley Hawkins
CVS Caremark, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, said Wednesday it will phase out cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco by Oct. 1st, 2014, a move that will cost it about $2 billion in annual revenue.
CVS is the first chain of national pharmacies to take tobacco products off the shelves. Health oriented organizations and President Barack Obama praised the move.
President Obama said that the decision will help his administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco related deaths and disease and bring down health care costs. In a statement released Wednesday, Obama stated that CVS’ decision will ultimately save lives and protect untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.
“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, said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark in a statement. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
“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.
“We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to take tobacco products out of the hands of America’s young generation, and to help those who are addicted to quit,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “Today’s CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation. I hope others will follow their lead.”
Asked Wednesday about the reaction of tobacco executives to the decision, CVS Caremark’s Merlo said they were “disappointed. At the same time, I think they understand the paradox that we face as an organization, and they understand the rationale for the decision.”
The company also announced Wednesday it plans to launch a national smoking-cessation program in the spring. The program will include information and treatment on smoking cessation at CVS/pharmacy and Minute Clinic locations in addition to online resources.
Tobacco has long been known to cause health problems. Cancer, stroke, heart disease and lung diseases are among the results of smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than five million deaths per year are caused by tobacco use. Smokers also tend to die 10 years before nonsmokers, according to the CDC.
Obama, who kicked his smoking habit in 2001, said CVS’ new policy “will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country.”
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 Minute Clinics, which are medical clinics within the pharmacy locations.
The tobacco industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. 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, he added. 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.