WOONSOCKET – CVS Caremark Corp. will stop selling tobacco products at its 7,600 retail stores nationwide by Oct. 1 this year, the pharmacy chain announced Wednesday.
“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 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners,” said Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, in a video posted to the company’s website. “Tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered.”
CVS Caremark is the first national pharmacy chain to make the decision to pull tobacco products from its stores, Merlo said.
In response to the announcement, one of CVS Caremark’s major competitors Rite Aid Corp. issued a statement asserting that “Rite Aid offers a wide range of products, including tobacco products, which are available for purchase in accordance with federal, state and local laws. Additionally, Rite Aid also sells a variety of smoking cessation products and provides additional resources, including our pharmacists, who are available to counsel people trying to stop smoking.”
Representatives of Walgreen Co., another major pharmacy chain, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In announcing the decision to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco at CVS retail stores, Merlo cited chronic medical conditions treated by CVS health care professionals such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which are exacerbated by smoking.
“Removing tobacco products from our stores is the right thing to do,” he said.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, smoking is the leading cause of preventable premature death in the United States, with more than 480,000 deaths annually. Health care costs attributable to smoking exceed $289 billion each year.
“Today’s CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a statement. “I hope others will follow their lead in this important new step to curtail tobacco use.”
CVS Caremark expects to lose approximately $2 billion in annual revenue generated by tobacco sales and other purchases made by shoppers drawn to CVS drugstores for tobacco products. The impact to 2014 earnings per share is expected to be in the range of 6 to 9 cents.
CVS Caremark also announced a smoking cessation program at CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic slated for launch in the spring, but did not provide details about the program.
“In public health we know that the reduction of access to tobacco is the best way to reduce smoking,” said R.I. Director of Health Dr. Michael Fine. “This may be the biggest advance in smoking cessation since the tobacco settlement in 1998, and we should be proud that a Rhode Island company is leading the way. The Department of Health calls on all Rhode Island retailers to follow this momentous effort by CVS/Caremark and put their customers’ health first.”
Tobacco Free Rhode Island, a statewide network of more than 55 organizations working to reduce tobacco use, also lauded CVS’s announcement “as a major milestone on the road to significantly reducing the U.S. smoking rate.”
“Tobacco Free Rhode Island applauds CVS for its decision to quit tobacco,” said Karina Holyoak Wood, director of Tobacco Free Rhode Island. “By going tobacco-free, CVS is leading the way for drug stores and pharmacies nationwide to fully embrace their role as centers of health and wellness. Today is a great day for CVS and a great day for public health.”