CVS Pharmacy will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by October of this year, the company announced Feb. 5.
CVS President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo said in a statement that the sale of tobacco products is contrary to CVS’s responsibility to help patients manage chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. "All of these conditions are made worse by smoking," he said. "Tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered."
In addition to pulling cigarettes from its shelves, CVS also plans to launch a national smoking cessation program in the spring for those trying to quit, Mr. Merlo added.
Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, CVS executive vice president and chief medical officer, and Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco, further explained the decision in a JAMA commentary (JAMA 2014 Feb. 5 [doi:10.1001/jama.2014.686]). "This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes," they wrote. "But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised the effort in a statement, calling the move an "unprecedented step in the retail industry" that would contribute to positive health effects for the next generation.
"Nearly 500,000 Americans die early each year due to smoking, and smoking costs us $289 billion annually," she said, citing the recently released 50th Anniversary Surgeon General Report on smoking and health. "If we fail to reverse course, 5.6 million American children alive today will die prematurely due to smoking."
CVS’s decision also drew support from the American Medical Association. AMA president Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven said in a statement that she applauds the company’s decision to put public health first and recognize the importance of "supporting health and wellness instead of contributing to disease and death caused by tobacco use." Dr. Hoven also said she hoped the change would inspire other pharmacies to follow suit by ending cigarette sales in stores.
Dr. W. Michael Alberts, chief medical officer at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, also voiced approval. "This is a major decision by CVS," he said in an interview. "It may even be a watershed moment akin to the decision to ban smoking on airplanes. Let’s hope such decisions become commonplace in corporate boardrooms."