Pharmacy and retailer CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that it will phase out tobacco sales over the next year, saying that profits from the sales are not worth the larger cost in public health.
CVS said in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the company is increasingly developing programs to improve the quality of care and reduce healthcare costs and that selling tobacco products is antithetical to both goals. CVS expects to lose about $2 billion annually in tobacco sales, but the financial gain is outweighed by “the paradox inherent in promoting health while contributing to tobacco-related deaths.”
Smoking is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., killing 443,000 Americans and costing the nation $193 billion in healthcare expenses and lost productivity each year, according to a Surgeon General’s report released last month.
“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.”
In 2010, the American Pharmacists Association urged pharmacies to stop selling tobacco and pushed state pharmacy boards to discontinue issuing and renewing licenses of pharmacies that sell these products. Calls for banning tobacco products in pharmacies have also come from the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.
CVS is a pharmacy healthcare giant headquartered in Woonsocket, R.I., with employees in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Ending tobacco sales may lead smokers to go elsewhere to buy cigarettes, but if other retailers follow, tobacco products could be more difficult to obtain, CVS said.
“The American Heart Association applauds CVS Caremark for the decision to stop selling cigarettes in their pharmacies — a vital and important step as we begin the next chapter in our fight for Americans’ health,” said American Heart Association President Mariell Jessup, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and medical director of Penn’s Heart and Vascular Center.
“Fifty years after the U.S. Surgeon General first reported the scientific evidence that cigarettes kill, we still have so much more to do to prevent our children from starting the deadly habit and to help so many adults finally stop smoking,” she said.
President Obama applauded the news.
“As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today’s decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs – ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come,” read a statement from the president.