CVS Caremark to Dump Tobacco

Feb 5, 2014

CVS Caremark plans to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores across the United States by Oct. 1, making the Woonsocket, R.I.-based company the first national drug store chain to do so.

"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," noted CVS Caremark President and CEO Larry J. Merlo. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."

Added Merlo: "As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners. The significant action we're taking today by removing tobacco products from our retail shelves further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients and health care providers and better positions us for continued growth in the evolving health care marketplace."

"CVS Caremark is continually looking for ways to promote health and reduce the burden of disease," said CVS Caremark Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan. "Stopping the sale of cigarettes and tobacco will make a significant difference in reducing the chronic illnesses associated with tobacco use."

'Robust National Smoking Cessation Program'

Along with its decision to remove tobacco products for sale, CVS Caremark "will undertake a robust national smoking cessation program," according to Merlo.

The program, which will roll out this spring, will provide information and treatment on smoking cessation at CVS/pharmacy and the chain's more than 800 in-store MinuteClinic locations, as well as online resources and additional comprehensive offerings for CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management plan members.

Reaction to the News

The company's move has so far earned plaudits from such organizations as the American Pharmacists Association, The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Legacy, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation that runs public education programs aimed at reducing tobacco use.

Grocery industry observers, for their part, are watching the development closely. "CVS' decision will be beneficial to grocers who carry tobacco products," Jeremy Diamond, director of Baltimore-based Diamond Marketing Group, told Progressive Grocer. "It will increase grocery store sales of tobacco and bring in shoppers for other impulse buying." CVS Caremark estimates it will lose about $2 million in revenues annually from tobacco shoppers.

Meanwhile, in his blog post on the topic, PG Editor-in-Chief James Dudlicek pointed out that if the no-tobacco movement gains real traction among retailers, governments dependent on the revenue from taxes on such products will branch out to tax other items perceived as unhealthy, including "so-called junk foods."

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of premature disease and death in the United States, resulting in more than 480,000 fatalities annually. Although the prevalence of cigarette smoking has declined from about 42 percent of adults in 1965 to 18 percent currently, the rate of reduction in smoking prevalence has stalled in the past decade.