CVS Caremark pharmacies will phase out tobacco in U.S. retail stores by Oct. 1, officials announced Wednesday, saying that selling cigarettes side-by-side with medicine undermines the mission of promoting good health.
The chain will lose about $2 billion in revenues annually from sales of tobacco in its 7,600 stores, but CVS Pharmacy president Helena Foulkes said it just makes sense for a firm now positioning itself as a health care company.
“It was very important to us that, as we’re working with doctors and hospital systems and health plans, that they see us as an extension of their services,” Foulkes said. “It’s virtually impossible to be in the tobacco business when you want to be a health care partner to the health care system.”
President Barack Obama immediately praised CVS. “As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, 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,” he said in a statement.
The move is also an effort to help curb tobacco-related illness and the 480,000 deaths caused by smoking each year in the U.S. Despite huge reductions over the past 50 years, about 18 percent of Americans — 42 million people — still smoke, health officials say. Smoking costs the nation about $289 billion annually in direct medical costs and lost productivity, according to federal figures.
Health experts and groups like the American Pharmacists Association and the American Medical Association have urged stores that house pharmacies to stop selling tobacco for years. Many small, independent pharmacies and small private chains already ban tobacco, said John Norton, spokesman for the National Community Pharmacists Association.Target stores stopped selling tobacco products in 1996.
But CVS is the first large retail pharmacy chain to do so.
“This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes,” CVS medical officer Dr. Troyen Brennan wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain.”
Pharmacy retailer Walgreens released a statment on Wednesday in which it said it has been “evaluating” the place tobacco products hold on its shelves. Representatives for Rite-Aid Corp. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. wouldn’t comment on the pending announcement late Tuesday, calling it “speculation.”
“We will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want, while also helping to educate them and providing smoking cessation products and alternatives that help to reduce the demand for tobacco products,” Walgreens said in the statement.
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