Stressing that it was first and foremost a health care provider, CVS Caremark Corp. announced earlier this month that its drug stores will stop selling tobacco products later this year.

CVS Caremark, tobacco products, CVS/pharmacy, Larry Merlo, cigarettes, drug chain, cigarette business, health care, Troyen Brennan, President Obama, Henry Waxman, MinuteClinics

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CVS pulls plug on sale of tobacco products

February 17th, 2014

WOONSOCKET, R.I. – Stressing that it was first and foremost a health care provider, CVS Caremark Corp. announced earlier this month that its drug stores will stop selling tobacco products later this year.

These products, executives said, do not fit with the direction in which the company is headed.

“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,” Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer, said about the plan to stop carrying cigarettes and other tobacco products by October 1.

“Put simply,” he said, “the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
The decision to discontinue selling tobacco makes CVS/pharmacy the first drug chain in the country to exit the cigarette business.

The move also underscores the direction that CVS and other drug chains have gone in recent years as they work to become key components of the nation’s health care system.

“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,” Merlo said.

“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’ announcement earned praise from public health advocates, health officials and a host of lawmakers.

In a statement from the White House, President Obama said the decision sends a “powerful message.”

Other lawmakers echoed that sentiment.

“The announcement sends an unmistakable message to all Americans — and especially to our kids,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) said in a statement. “Tobacco use is incompatible with health and wellness.”

Waxman noted that it has been 50 years since the release of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and that a recent update of that report found that cigarettes are even more harmful and addictive than they were decades ago.

Public health officials say that nearly half a million Americans die from smoking-related causes every year. In addition, they say, smoking costs the nation close to $290 billion in health bills and lost productivity.

“CVS’ decision is exactly the type of bold action needed by the private sector and leaders at all levels of government to realize our shared goal of ending deadly addiction to tobacco,” Waxman said.

Although they admitted that discontinuing selling tobacco products in their stores would likely have little impact on cutting down on the number of people who smoke, CVS executives said they hoped their move would serve as an example to other retailers specializing in health care.

“We hope that all other retail pharmacies — in fact, all retailers — will consider how they might limit access to tobacco,” CVS Caremark chief medical officer Dr. Troyen Brennan said during a conference call to discuss the company’s decision to stop selling cigarettes and related products.

He noted that while cigarette smoking has decreased from approximately 42% of adults in 1965 to 18% today, the rate of reduction has stalled in the past decade.

More interventions, such as reducing the availability of cigarettes, are needed, he said.
In an effort to meet that need, CVS says it will begin offering a smoking cessation program in all 7,600 of its pharmacies and at its more than 800 Minute Clinic walk-in health centers.

The program, to be launched this spring, is expected to include information and treatment on smoking cessation along with online resources.

Executives say that besides being offered in CVS stores and MinuteClinics, smoking cessation programs will be available for CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management plan ­members.