As of Oct. 1 CVS is “kicking the habit” nationwide, refusing to stock or sell cigarettes or any tobacco product, willing to take an estimated $2 billion annual loss to its reported $123 billion annual revenue stream, all in the name of health.
The announcement by CVS Caremark Corp that the company will no longer sell tobacco products at any of its more than 7,000 pharmacies came yesterday when it issued a statement advising the company will be taking tobacco off its shelves permanently as of Oct. 1. The move was made in an effort to improve their customers’ health, as well as a way to be more in synch with the goals of the doctors and hospitals with whom the company works in partnership, company officials said. CVS will also encourage customers trying to quit with smoking cessation counseling.
CVS stores in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury currently sell tobacco products. But in 50 communities statewide, the new policy is moot — according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, communities including Boston and Worcester have already imposed bans on sales of tobacco at pharmacies, covering nearly 40 percent of the state’s population. Boston was the first to impose a ban in 2009.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, tobacco use from smoking and chewing tobacco is responsible for about 480,000 deaths a year. It is seen by health advocates as the most preventable cause of premature death and disability in the nation, a leading cause of heart and lung disease, as well as many cancers, including lung, throat, mouth, colon and bladder.
In making the decision, CVS’s chief executive officer Larry Merlo said selling tobacco became counter productive to CVS’s intent to keep its customers healthy.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” he said.
Massachusetts Medical Society President Ronald Dunlap said in a statement yesterday that the national announcement by CVS marks a “milestone in tobacco prevention efforts.”
CVS’s statement came soon after a nearly 1,000-page tobacco related study was released in January by acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak. Issued on the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s report that revealed for the first time the devastating affect cigarette smoking has on the nation’s health, the new report highlights the federal government’s anti-tobacco efforts.
Although at one point during smoking’s heyday in the 1960s, about 40 percent of the total population was engaged in the addictive habit, today only about 18 percent smoke.
The cost of cigarettes has also risen nation-wide over the decades, with price hikes coming from both cigarette manufacturers and increases in state and local tobacco taxes. The escalation has brought the cost of cigarettes from 40 cents a pack in the mid-1960s to between $9 to $10 a pack in Massachusetts today.
The move to halt the sale of cigarettes by health care providers began decades ago, as hospital gift shops were among the first stores to stop selling tobacco products. Most independent pharmacies followed suit on their own over the years, again seeing the sale of such an unhealthy product as inappropriate in the pharmacy setting.
Although Walgreen and Walmart, whose corporations have pharmacies components, currently sell cigarettes, many are waiting to see the impact CVS’s announcement has on their policies. Of drug-stores in the nation, CVS ranks second in size, with Walgreens listed as the largest.
President Barack Obama, himself a former smoker, has praised CVS’s actions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.