CVS to phase out tobacco sales, launch smoking cessation program

All tobacco products will be off the shelves by October 1

Calling the decision “simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company,” CVS Caremark will stop selling all tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy locations by October 1. The February 5 announcement came a week after the U.S. Surgeon General issued renewed warnings about tobacco use on the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s landmark report linking smoking and poor health.

“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease, and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners,” said Larry J. Merlo, BSPharm, President and CEO, CVS Caremark, in a news release. “The significant action we’re taking … further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients, and health care providers and better positions us for continued growth in the evolving health care marketplace.”

APhA applauds decision

APhA, citing policy approved by the House of Delegates in 2010, applauded CVS Caremark’s decision to join a growing list of pharmacies that do not sell tobacco products.  

“Pharmacists are health care providers, and we must commit to limiting access to products that are known to cause disease and poor health. We are thrilled that CVS Caremark is making a courageous move by giving up tobacco sales in favor of moving the organization toward a focus on health and wellness,” wrote APhA Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD(Hon), FAPhA, in a blog post. “This action adds CVS Caremark to a long list of pharmacies that have already stopped the sale of these dangerous products.” 

Cities such as San Francisco and Boston have already banned sales of cigarettes in pharmacies. Some prohibitions include e-cigarettes and tobacco sales in big-box stores that have pharmacies.

The right direction

Many pharmacists hail the move as a step in the right direction toward improving patient health and the status of pharmacists as health professionals. “This is very exciting news,” wrote Roger Klotz, BSPharm, in an APhA LinkedIn post. Klotz, who is Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration at Western University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy, added, “I was a member of the California Medical Association committee that worked for a number of years trying to get pharmacies to stop selling tobacco products. Finally someone is willing to [take] a strong stance. I am very pleased and thank CVS for taking the stand and helping to reduce health care costs and saving lives.”

Klotz’s viewpoint echoes that of APhA President Steven T. Simenson, BSPharm, FAPhA, FACA, FACVP, who is a community pharmacist. “As pharmacists step up to provide care to their patients, we cannot continue to sell known health hazards in our pharmacies,” Simenson told Pharmacy Today.

In a JAMA article released online in conjunction with the announcement, Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of CVS Caremark, wrote with colleague Steven A. Schroeder, MD, “The CVS retail pharmacy, pharmacy benefit management, and retail-clinic companies are, like others, increasingly developing programs to improve the quality of care and reduce health care costs. Selling tobacco products is clearly antithetical to both goals. Although the sale of tobacco products in CVS pharmacies produces more than $1.5 billion in revenues annually, the financial gain is outweighed by the paradox inherent in promoting health while contributing to tobacco-related deaths.”

Kicking the habit

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, resulting in more than 480,000 deaths each year. 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.

To help jump-start that rate, CVS Caremark is also launching a national smoking cessation program in the spring. The program will offer additional comprehensive programs for CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management plan members to help them to quit smoking, the company said.

APhA urges patients to talk with their pharmacist if they want to quit using tobacco products. Pharmacists are trained in the latest smoking cessation techniques and are available to help patients choose a product, understand how it works and possible adverse effects, and provide ongoing coaching to enhance treatment successes.