CVS To Become 1st National Pharmacy Chain To Stop Selling Tobacco

by AP

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In this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 file photo, Marlboro cigarettes are on display in a CVS store in Pittsburgh. The nation's second-largest drugstore chain says it will phase out cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco by Oct. 1 as it continues to focus more on health care. The move will cost the Woonsocket, R.I., company about $2 billion in annual revenue. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Retail giant CVS Caremark announced this morning that the chain will ban the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products by Oct. 1.

CVS President and CEO Larry J. Merlo said the sale of tobacco products has become “inconsistent with our purpose,” as the chain focuses more on providing health care through its clinics.

“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,” Merlo said.

It is the first national pharmacy to pledge to extinguish tobacco sales.

President Obama, a recovering smoker, was quick to hail the ban.

“As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example,” Obama said, “and today’s decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs — ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.”

The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain — with more than 7,600 drugstores nationwide — said today that it expects the move will cost about $2 billion in annual revenue but won’t affect its 2014 earnings forecast. CVS Caremark leaders say removing tobacco will help them grow the company’s business of working with doctors, hospitals and other care providers to improve customers’ health.

CVS Caremark Corp. and other major drugstore chains have been adding clinics to their stores and expanding their health care focus for several years now. They’ve been preparing, in part, for an aging U.S. population that will need more care and for the millions of people who are expected to gain health insurance coverage under the federal health care overhaul.

Their pharmacists deliver flu shots and other immunizations, and their clinics also have been expanding the scope of care they deliver. They now help people manage chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes in addition to treating relatively minor problems like sinus infections.

Merlo noted that chronic conditions are made worse by smoking.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” he said.

CVS Caremark has been working to team up with hospital groups and doctor practices to help deliver and monitor patient care, and the presence of tobacco in its stores has made for some awkward conversations, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan said.

“One of the first questions they ask us is, ‘Well, if you’re going to be part of the health care system, how can you continue to sell tobacco products?’” he said. “There’s really no good answer to that at all.”

The drugstore chain also plans to expand its smoking cessation efforts. That includes training its pharmacists to counsel people on how to quit smoking.

Tobacco is responsible for about 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration, which gained the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009.

On its own, the CVS move won’t hurt cigarette companies much. Drugstores overall account for only 4 percent of cigarettes sold. That pales compared to gas stations, which generate nearly half of those sales. But it’s another in a long line of changes that have led cigarette sales to fall because of health concerns, higher prices and taxes, and social stigma.

The federal government has renewed efforts to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s report that launched the anti-smoking movement. A new 980-page report issued last month by acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak also urged new resolve to make the next generation smoke-free.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called on others to follow the CVS Caremark example.

“We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to take tobacco products out of the hands of America’s younger generation, and to help those who are addicted to quit,” she said in a statement.

CVS Caremark competitor Walgreen Co., the nation’s largest drugstore chain, sells tobacco, as does the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which also operates pharmacies in its stores. But Target Corp., another major retailer with pharmacies, does not.

The nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said in a statement today that it is up to retailers to decide if they’re going to sell tobacco products.




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