Earlier this year, CVS Caremark announced that CVS stores would stop carrying tobacco products by Oct. 1, 2014.
On Wednesday, nearly a month ahead of schedule, CVS stores became tobacco-free, USA Today reported, and the pharmacy chain has a new corporate name: CVS Health.
Packs of cigarettes are displayed on a shelf at a CVS store in Greenbrae, Calif., Feb. 6, 2014. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
"CVS' announcement to stop selling tobacco products fully a month early sends a resounding message to the entire retail industry and to its customers that pharmacies should not be in the business of selling tobacco," Matthew Myers, president of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told USA Today. "This is truly an example of a corporation leading and setting a new standard."
CVS will give up roughly $2 billion in annual tobacco-related revenue — about 3 percent of yearly profits — in the move, NPR reported, though the company stands to gain as it positions itself as the "healthiest" health store.
"CVS's move is expected to put pressure on its main rivals — Walgreen, Rite Aid Corp. and even Wal-Mart Stores to adopt similar measures," the Wall Street Journal noted back in February. "Each of those competitors, like CVS, is wooing sick patients with the promise they could help them better manage their health."
The switch isn't just about healthy marketing — there's a personal connection for two CVS leaders: The father of CEO Larry Merlo died of tobacco-related cancer and CVS/Pharmacy President Helene Foulkes' mother died of lung cancer caused by smoking, USA Today reported.
But what kind of impact will CVS' no-tobacco policy have on American health? CVS says it will be big, though experts have given less rosy estimates.
From USA Today:
CVS says research shows its decision will have a big impact. A study the company is releasing Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs shows bans at pharmacies in Boston and San Francisco led to more than 13% fewer purchasers. Smokers didn't just switch where they bought cigarettes and other tobacco products, some stopped buying them altogether. About 900 households in the two cities recorded everything they bought after the bans went into effect.
Troyen Brennan, CVS' chief medical officer, says if the results were extrapolated for pharmacies across the USA, it would lead to 65,000 fewer deaths a year.
Ellen Hahn of the Tobacco Policy Research Program at the University of Kentucky says one chain not selling tobacco will have a limited effect, and other tobacco control strategies, such as price and tax increases and smoking bans, have been shown to be more effective.
Still, she said, "every little bit helps because they are such a large chain. If every pharmacy would follow suit, that would be best. But this sends a clear message that pharmacies should not be selling tobacco."
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