The first national pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco said all 7,700 stores had halted sales by Wednesday — about a month earlier than planned — and announced a name change from CVS Caremark to CVS Health to reflect its commitment to health.
CVS announced its tobacco-free plan in February, saying the profits are not worth the larger cost in public health. 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.
CVS Health also announced Wednesday a new “comprehensive and uniquely personalized smoking cessation program” developed by national experts.
“For our patients and customers, health is everything and CVS Health is changing the way health care is delivered to increase access, lower costs and improve quality,” Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, said in a statement. “Along with the start of CVS Health, the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy ends today. By eliminating cigarettes and tobacco products from sale in our stores, we can make a difference in the health of all Americans.”
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.” 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. American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown, whose organization has worked to stop tobacco use for more than 50 years, praised the latest news.
“We congratulate CVS Health for having the courage to make this bold decision in the name of public health and for staying true to it,” Brown said. “Changing the company’s name to focus on health, and stopping tobacco sales a month ahead of schedule, speak volumes about this organization’s commitment.”
That commitment is important in the larger goal of ensuring Americans have healthy environments, she said.
“We are committed to helping create a culture of health, where the healthy choice is the default choice,” Brown said. “Taking these deadly products off the shelves sends a powerful message about the importance of healthy environments.”
Brown also praised Merlo’s participation in the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable, which itself is dedicated to healthier environments. The group includes 22 CEOs who are committed to creating healthy workplace cultures.
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. CVS Health has 7,700 retail pharmacies and 900 walk-in medical clinics.