CVS to stop selling tobacco products in October


CVS Caremark will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at all of its pharmacies nationwide by October 1, 2014.

CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at all of its CVS pharmacies nationwide by October 1, 2014, which makes the company the first major pharmacy chain in the United States to do so.

CVS Caremark’s decision to exit the tobacco category is based on its role in the evolving healthcare marketplace, said Larry J. Merlo, CVS Caremark’s president and CEO.  With more than 7,600 CVS pharmacies and 800 MinuteClinics nationwide, CVS Caremark is focused on its expanded role in providing healthcare.

“Tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is being delivered,” explained Merlo, during a February 5 media call.

“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 healthcare providers and better positions us for continued growth,” he said.

Troy A. Brennan, MD, MPH, CVS Caremark’s chief medical officer, said he believes that stopping the sale of tobacco will make a significant difference in the lives of patients by reducing the chronic illnesses associated with its use, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes.

“Our company’s mission is to help our customers lead tobacco-free lives,” Brennan said during the media call. “Our action alone won’t have a significant impact, but by setting an example for others there may be the possibility of reduced availability of tobacco products. We do think this could have a real public health impact.”


Health effects of smoking

Approximately 16 million people have at least one disease that is associated with smoking, and 9 of 10 lung cancers are caused by tobacco products. More than 480,000 deaths in the United States are attributed to tobacco products, Brennan explained, making it the leading cause of premature death in the nation.

Even though the prevalence of cigarette smoking has declined over the last five decades, the rate of reduction in smoking prevalence has stalled in the last 10 years, Brennan said.

“The paradox of cigarette sales in pharmacies has become even more relevant recently, in large part because of changes in the pharmacy industry…. Most pharmacy chains are retooling themselves as a integral part of the healthcare system,” according to Brennan and his co-author Steven A. Schroeder, director, Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, University of California, San Francisco, who wrote an editorial in JAMA published on February 5.

“Pharmacies are moving into the treatment arena, with the advent of retail health clinics. These retail clinics, originally designed to address common acute infections, are gearing up to work with primary care clinicians to assist in treating … all conditions exacerbated by smoking,” they wrote.

CVS Caremark plans to launch a national smoking cessation program this spring with information and treatment on smoking cessation delivered at its pharmacies and MinuteClinics. It also plans to provide online resources and additional programs for its PBM plan members to help them quit smoking. “About seven in ten smokers say they want to quit and about half attempt to quit each year,” CVS reported in a news release.

The company also reported that it actively encourages its employees to quit smoking. It has provided tools for smoking cessation, which makes this a “realistic choice for them,” Merlo said.


CVS Caremark expects to lose about $2 billion in revenues annually from tobacco customers-about 3% of earnings, but does not believe the company’s 2014 operating profit outlook will change. “The company has identified incremental opportunities that are expected to offset the profitability impact,” said Merlo. However, he would not elaborate on those opportunities at this time.

The American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists commended CVS Caremark in their decision to remove tobacco products from its pharmacies. Both pharmacy organizations have long advocated that the pharmacy industry refrain from selling these products that are known to cause disease and premature death.

In addition, Philip P. Burgess, RPh, DPh, MBA, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy, was pleased with this latest development by CVS Caremark.

"I applaud CVS for the stance they have taken. As the profession of pharmacy continues to evolve, pharmacists should be at the forefront of advocating for limiting consumer access to products that use has negative healthcare consequences," said Burgess, who is also a Drug Topics editorial advisor.

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