Drug Information Center

College of Pharmacy

CVS to Stop Selling Tobacco Products


On February 5, 2014, CVS Caremark announced that CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the United States, will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in all of its 7,600 stores by October 1, 2014. This is the first time any drugstore has ever dropped profitable sales of these harmful products.

Larry Merlo, the chief executive of CVS Caremark, stated "We've got 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners who are helping millions of patients each and every day. They manage conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes — all conditions that are worsened by smoking. We've come to the decision that cigarettes have no place in an environment where healthcare is being delivered."

The American Medical Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Cancer Society commended CVS for their decision to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. "Over time, we think lives will be saved by this," says Cancer Society President John Seffrin. But the public-health-mindedness will cost CVS billions – literally. The company says $2 billion in sales will be shaved off its $125 billion top line.

The Surgeon General blames cigarettes for 480,000 deaths every year from heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke. The long term goal of CVS is to become a central player in the U.S. health care system that interacts even more closely with patients, giving flu shots, reminding them when they are not filling prescriptions, and, through its Minute Clinic in-store nurse practitioner stations, prescribing medicines. "I see my role as insuring that the company is positioned for growth," says Merlo. "And that is what this decision is about."

In the shorter term, the cigarette ban may help with one new business: CVS is offering patients' smoking cessation therapy, which will usually be paid for by insurance but which some patients will need to pay for out of pocket. Patients will be offered several counseling sessions with a nurse practitioner and perhaps, if they need them, nicotine replacement gums, lozenges, patches, or medicines like varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban) that can help patients quit. CVS does not sell so-called e-cigarettes, which vaporize nicotine so it can be inhaled.

TThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also getting involved in the prevention of tobacco use. "The Real Cost" campaign targets at-risk youth aged 12 to 17 who are open to smoking or have already experimented with cigarettes. The campaign will be launched on February 11, 2014. For more information, please refer to "The Real Cost" campaign overview found on the FDA website.

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