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CVS to Cut Tobacco Products From All Pharmacy Locations

Image credit: Olivier Douliery, MCT

In a bold yet intuitive move for a pharmacy, CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores across the US by October 1, 2014. It is the first action of its kind by a national pharmacy chain.

With more than 480,000 deaths annually, smoking is the leading cause of premature disease and death in the United States, CVS says. While the prevalence of cigarette smoking has decreased from around 42 percent of adults in 1965 to 18 percent today, the rate of reduction in smoking prevalence has stalled in the past decade.

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

CVS expects it will lose approximately $2 billion in revenues on an annual basis from the tobacco shopper, no inconsiderable sum. However, the company has identified incremental opportunities that are expected to offset the profitability impact. More importantly, this decision more closely aligns the company with its patients, clients and health care providers to improve health outcomes while controlling costs and positions the company for continued growth.

"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 continued. “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."

This spring, CVS will be launching a program aimed at helping people to quit smoking, including information and treatment on smoking cessation at CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic along with online resources. The program will be available broadly across all CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic locations and will offer additional comprehensive programs for CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management plan members to help them to quit smoking.

"Every day, all across the country, customers and patients place their trust in our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners to serve their health care needs," said CVS president Helena B. Foulkes. "Removing tobacco products from our stores is an important step in helping Americans to quit smoking and get healthy."

Approximately seven in ten smokers say they want to quit and about half attempt to quit each year, CVS says. The company hopes that reducing the availability of cigarettes will also reduce the amount of consumed. While it is likely cigarette addicts will simply go elsewhere to make tobacco purchases, the CVS anti-smoking campaign holds promise for helping smokers to finally quit.

Last year, in its 2012 CSR Report, pointed to research that patients are increasingly turning to their pharmacists for guidance on a range of health care issues beyond simple advice on their medications. This likely influenced the company’s decision to eliminate cigarettes, to better align its brand with its mission statement of improving health nationwide.

CVS regularly educates customers through its Project Health Events, where individuals can receive free health screenings to check blood pressure, body mass index, glucose, total cholesterol and even receive oral or dental care. Last October and November, CVS held several events aimed at helping customers make sense of their healthcare coverage options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).


Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a sustainability strategist and storyteller on Edelman's Business + Social Purpose team where he works with some of the world's leading brands on corporate sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement. With several years of… [Read more about Mike Hower]