CVS Health Tobacco Sales Go Up in Smoke Early

To reinforce its position as a health-focused company, CVS Caremark has pushed up its plan to cease tobacco sales at retail locations by a full month. Beginning today, tobacco products are no longer available at any CVS store. The company is also rebranding itself as CVS Health.

Reactions to the decision are mixed: research to be published today in Health Affairs suggests that tobacco sales bans in San Francisco and Boston retail pharmacies correlate to an approximately 13 percent drop in tobacco purchasers, and CVS Health’s chief medical officer estimates that a nationwide ban could reduce tobacco-related deaths by tens of thousands every year. Public health advocates also cheer the move.

On the other hand, other retail pharmacies are reluctant to jump on the “ban”dwagon and cite tobacco cessation products as the more effective tool against tobacco use. CVS Health is targeting tobacco use through expanded cessation services, which they will provide at their 7,000-plus retail locations.

CVS Health is also expanding its relationship with health care providers to increase the quality of care that patients can receive at existing and future CVS walk-in clinics.

The financial impact of ending tobacco sales remains to be seen, but CVS Health executives are confident that the decision will “position it as a broader provider of basic health services”.

CVS Announces an End to Tobacco Sales

CVS Caremark announced today that they will end all tobacco product sales in their stores by October 1, 2014, making them the first and only national pharmacy chain so far to do so.

CEO Larry Merlo explains the decision as one to “[position] CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company.” The move, while projected to cost the business $2 billion in annual revenue, is meant to align their product selection with their commitment to health care and information.

In addition, beginning this spring CVS will offer a stop smoking program nationwide in an effort to encourage their customers to cut out tobacco use. Chief Medical Officer Troy Brennan pointed out that health care through the Affordable Care Act is expensive to provide, therefore promoting good health is important.

The company has already received messages of support from President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, and follows the path of retailers Target Corp and Wegmans which ended tobacco sales in 1996 and 2008 respectively. In addition, they have good company at the city level: San Francisco banned the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies in 2008 and Boston did so in 2009.

Anti-tobacco activists are hopeful that CVS’ announcement will set an example that other pharmacy chains and retailers will follow, though when interviewed spokespeople for both Walgreens and Rite Aid said that they would continue selling cigarettes while they weigh consumer demand.

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