CVS Caremark will drop tobacco products in October

February 5, 2014

CVS Caremark is recognizing that cigarettes and pharmacies don't mix and will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores across the United States by October 1, 2014. This move makes CVS/pharmacy the first national pharmacy chain to take this step in support of the health and well-being of its patients and customers.

CVS Caremark is recognizing that cigarettes and pharmacies don't mix and will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores across the United States by October 1, 2014. This move makes CVS/pharmacy the first national pharmacy chain to take this step in support of the health and well-being of its patients and customers.

The program, to be launched this spring, is expected to include information and treatment on smoking cessation at CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic along with online resources. The program will be available broadly across all CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic locations and will offer additional comprehensive programs for CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management plan members to help them to quit smoking. Approximately 7 in 10 smokers say they want to quit and about half attempt to quit each year.

“We are getting in line with public health experts who believe that retail pharmacy should not sell cigarettes,” Larry J. Merlo, President and CEO, CVS Caremark, said in a Feb. 4 media teleconference. “We are a healthcare company. In the evolving marketplace as our pharmacists and nurse practitioners are being more involved with the management of our customers’ chronic diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, tobacco products have no place in our setting.”

The “retailization” of healthcare in the evolving marketplace signaled to Merlo that this was the “right time” for CVS Caremark to make the decision to stop selling tobacco products. “As consumers take on more accountability and responsibility, there’s a growing interest for them to stop smoking for financial reasons,” he said.

CVS Caremark's thinking is consistent with the positions taken by the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Pharmacists Association that have all publicly opposed tobacco sales in retail outlets with pharmacies. Also, this week, FDA announced a major anti-tobacco campaign to prevent and reduce smoking among young people.

 In addition, said Merlo, “This action aligns us closer with our healthcare providers and PBM clients as work on controlling costs. Our pharmacists and nurse practitioners are quite pleased with our decision.”

“Our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners have real relationships with our customers who are in our store several times a month," said Helena B. Foulkes, president, CVS/pharmacy.

Smoking is the leading cause of premature disease and death in the United States with more than 480,000 deaths annually. While the prevalence of cigarette smoking has decreased from approximately 42% of adults in 1965 to 18% today, the rate of reduction in smoking prevalence has stalled in the past decade. More interventions, such as reducing the availability of cigarettes, are needed.

In talks with tobacco executives, Merlo said that the executives “understand the rationale for the decision.”

This action might set an example to other large retail pharmacies and big box stores to follow suit, according to CVS Caremark Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH. “I hope they look in the mirror and ask the same questions we were asking ourselves,” he said. “This is a substantial public health impact. Our hospital physician groups and other providers worry about their patients. In our relationship they were asking ‘How serious are you about healthcare? How can you continue to sell tobacco when you’re a healthcare company?’ Other retailers will face the same questions.”

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) online Dr Brennan and co-author Steven A. Schroeder, director, Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, University of California, San Francisco, wrote, "The paradox of cigarette sales in pharmacies has become even more relevant recently, in large part because of changes in the pharmacy industry. Most pharmacy chains are retooling themselves as an integral part of the health care system. They are offering more counseling by pharmacists, an array of wellness products and outreach to clinicians and health care centers. Perhaps more important, pharmacies are moving into the treatment arena, with the advent of retail health clinics. These retail clinics, originally designed to address common acute infections, are gearing up to work with primary care clinicians to assist in treating hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes all conditions exacerbated by smoking."

CVS said this decision would cut annual revenue by about $2 billion, which is less than 2% of its $123 billion of 2012 sales.