CVS Caremark, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain (behind Walgreens in number of locations), announced Wednesday that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its 7,600-plus retail stores by the start of October. That decision, according to the Los Angeles Times, would make it the first national pharmacy company to cease tobacco sales.
The announcement, as you’d expect, is drawing praise, most notably from the American Medical Association and President Obama. But it doesn’t come without its short-term costs for the company. The decision is expected to trim anywhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion—more than one percent—from CVS’s annual revenue. Here’s Time magazine with more on the decision:
The move addresses what public health officials and pharmacists have long seen as a hypocritical practice: patients picking up medications to treat disease, not to mention smoking-cessation products, can also add a pack of cigarettes to their purchase. In recent years, the disconnect has become even more glaring, as retail pharmacies have increasingly shifted their role in the health-care community, investing in delivering medical services such as immunizations and other basic care through retail clinics, and targeting more wellness-oriented goals.
Such health-care delivery, says Dr. Steven Schroeder, professor of medicine at the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California San Francisco, “is in clear conflict with the commercial interests of pharmacy chains in selling tobacco products. I think the pressure has been building over the last five years as pharmacies have gotten more into the care-dispensing business.” Schroeder co-wrote an essay appearing the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association with CVS Caremark’s chief medical officer, Dr. Troyen Brennan.
At last count (back in 2009), pharmacies had accounted for less than 5 percent of cigarette sales nationwide, according to a study by the Center for Global Tobacco Control—but despite overall cigarette sales declining, sales at CVS and their drugstore brethren had actually been increasing, according to the Times. CVS also announced plans for the launch of what it called a “robust national smoking cessation program” this spring, an effort that will also put more pressure on its competitors to follow its lead when it comes to in-store tobacco sales.