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CVS Kicks the Habit

KF HC 12-2014Pharmacies have turned into grocery stores, no longer just selling medicines, but about anything else you can imagine as well, including tobacco products. Some stores, however, are changing their inventory. The American Pharmacists Association called on drugstores to stop selling tobacco in March 2010, and according to APA spokeswoman Michelle Spinnier, several small, independent chains have done so. CVS is the first large chain to stop tobacco sales.

CVS, which has 7,700 retail locations and is the second-largest drugstore chain in the U.S., behind Walgreens, made the decision that selling tobacco conflicted with its healthcare mission. In February of this year, CVS announced that it planned to drop tobacco by October 1st, and to bolster its image as a healthcare company they changed their corporate name to CVS Health and their retail stores to CVS/Pharmacy. “CVS’ announcement to stop selling tobacco products fully a month early sends a resounding message to the entire retail industry and to its customers that pharmacies should not be in the business of selling tobacco,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “This is truly an example of a corporation leading and setting a new standard.”

CVS says research shows its decision will have a big impact. A study the company released in the journal Health Affairs shows bans at pharmacies in Boston and San Francisco led to more than 13% fewer purchasers. Smokers didn’t just switch where they bought cigarettes and other tobacco products, some stopped buying them altogether. About 900 households in the two cities recorded everything they bought after the bans went into effect.

Troyen Brennan, CVS’ chief medical officer, says if the results were extrapolated for pharmacies across the USA, it would lead to 65,000 fewer deaths a year.

Ellen Hahn of the Tobacco Policy Research Program at the University of Kentucky says one chain not selling tobacco will have a limited effect, and other tobacco control strategies, such as price and tax increases and smoking bans, have been shown to be more effective.

Still, she said, “every little bit helps because they are such a large chain. If every pharmacy would follow suit, that would be best. But this sends a clear message that pharmacies should not be selling tobacco.”


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