CVS Caremark pharmacies will phase out tobacco in U.S. retail stores by Oct. 1, officials announced Wednesday, saying that selling cigarettes side-by-side with medicine undermines the mission of promoting good health. The chain will lose about $2 billion in revenues annually from sales of tobacco in its 7,600 stores, but CVS Pharmacy president Helena Foulkes said it just makes sense for a firm now positioning itself as a health care company.
"It was very important to us that, as we're working with doctors and hospital systems and health plans, that they see us as an extension of their services," Foulkes said. "It's virtually impossible to be in the tobacco business when you want to be a health care partner to the health care system."
The White House soon after issued a statement from President Obama, a former smoker himself, applauding the announcement: "As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today's decision will help advance my Administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs -- ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come."
Sarah Kliff's report added that public health advocates hope will the CVS announcement "will become a watershed and pressure other large drug store franchises to follow suit."
And it very well might.
Annie-Rose Strasser made the case that developments like these matter, whether someone buys tobacco products or not.
CVS's decision is a big blow to already-struggling tobacco companies. Cigarette sales have been falling nationally, and are largely propped up by retail sales. Rates of smoking are also decreasing, from a high of 42 percent of Americans in the 1960s to just 21 percent of Americans today. But the negative health effects of smoking remain immutable. Smoking has killed over 20 million Americans in the last 50 years. About 400,000 people a year die from smoking-related diseases. And a report by the surgeon general predicts that 5.6 million children in the United States will die prematurely unless rates of smoking drop further. That directly impacts Americans consumers in the form of health costs. The country spends about $96 billion annually on health care related to smoking illnesses -- and about $58.3 billion of that comes from the government, meaning it's a cost passed on to taxpayers. Cessation programs like the one CVS is launching could help reverse this, though.
For its part, Walgreens responded, "We have been evaluating this product category for some time to balance the choices our customers expect from us, with their ongoing health needs. We will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want, while also helping to educate them and providing smoking cessation products and alternatives that help to reduce the demand for tobacco products."