CVS to stop selling tobacco

February 05, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

CVS Caremark Corp., the second largest U.S. drugstore chain announced today that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 pharmacy stores by October 1, 2014. This move makes CVS the first national pharmacy chain to take cigarettes off its shelves.

"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."

Public health advocates hope that the move pressures other retailers to follow suit.

The California Medical Association (CMA) has been a tireless advocate for stronger restrictions on the tobacco industry for decades, and has policy specifically opposing tobacco sales in retail outlets with pharmacies. The CMA Foundation in 1995 launched the "Prescription for Change" project, which worked with pharmacies across California to remove tobacco products from their stores.

"The sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products by health-promoting businesses sends the wrong message about the dire health consequences of smoking," says Sandra Robinson, vice president of programs for the CMA Foundation.

In 1970, 1978 and 1980, CMA supported ballot initiatives that would have banned smoking in many public places. In 1987, CMA took on its biggest tobacco-related challenge and won, with the passage of Proposition 99, which established a 25-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes and a tax hike for other tobacco-related products.

CMA also joined labor, the California Restaurant Association and health-related groups in 1993 to pass the Indoor Clean Air Act, a law banning smoking in California workplaces, including restaurants and bars.

Most recently, CMA supported San Francisco's city-wide ban on tobacco sales in stores with pharmacies, which was unsuccessfully challenged in court by major retailers including Walgreens and Safeway.

"Unlike other retail outlets that sell cigarettes, stores that provide pharmacy services pose a unique problem if they also sell tobacco products," CMA wrote in a brief filed with a U.S. District court during the most recent legal challenge. "Stores that contain a pharmacy are an integral part of the health care delivery system. Selling tobacco products in such institutions creates a conflict of interest and sends a mixed message that can undermine the campaign against smoking.”

While some cities, including Boston and San Francisco, already ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, anti-tobacco advocates hope the voluntary move by CVS will have a ripple effect across other drugstore chains.

CVS also announced plans to launch a robust national smoking cessation program.

"The CMA Foundation applauds CVS Caremark's decision to stop selling tobacco products," says Robinson. "We hope that other pharmacies will follow suit so we can help more people kick the habit and create a healthier, smoke free California."


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