CVS to halt tobacco sales

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Photo credit: Kimberly Smith

CVS will stop selling tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores nationwide by Oct. 1 in a shift that emphasizes its expanding role as a pharmacy and health care provider.

The move, announced Feb. 5, has drawn praise from health organizations, anti-smoking groups and President Barack Obama, a former smoker, who said the decision would have “a profoundly positive impact” on the health of American citizens.

The decision adds pressure on other companies to stop selling tobacco, which is responsible for around 480,000 U.S. deaths per year, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration. Currently, 19 percent of Americans smoke, down from 42 percent in 1965, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The nation’s second-largest drugstore/pharmacy chain estimated the decision would cause a loss of $2 billion per year, a small percentage of its 2012 total revenue of $123 billion. It would, however, boost the company’s image as a health care provider and attract more business from hospitals and insurance companies. In recent years, CVS has seen growing revenues due to its expanding health care offerings such as flu shots, vaccinations, prescription drug sales and in-store clinics.

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/Pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” CVS Caremark President and CEO Larry J. Merlo said in a press release. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The chain will launch an anti-smoking campaign in the spring, although details are not yet announced.

Smoking is the largest cause of preventable deaths in the nation. Most U.S. independent pharmacies do not sell tobacco, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. Neither does Target, a major U.S. retailer with pharmacies in some of its stores. Some cities such as San Francisco and Boston ban pharmacies from selling tobacco products, and European pharmacies don’t sell them at all.

Wal-Mart and CVS competitors Walgreens and Rite Aid all operate pharmacies and sell tobacco.

There are five CVS stores within three miles of APU’s campus; the closest location is almost directly across the street from East Campus in Citrus Crossing. But even with CVS’ upcoming change, former APU student Kristi Hwang said it would not have affected her former smoking habit.

“For me it wouldn’t have been a problem. I wouldn’t have cared,” said Hwang, who bought her cigarettes primarily at gas stations and liquor stores. “Even when I was a smoker, I just didn’t even think about going to CVS to get cigarettes because it was so expensive there.”

Senior mathematics major Samuel Tabor, a regular smoker, also buys his cigarettes primarily at liquor stores and occasionally at gas stations. He said he only visits a drugstore for cigarettes if it happens to be the nearest store.

CVS is actually one of the cheaper places for him to buy cigarettes, which may be because of the specific brands he purchases, said Tabor, who favors Camel and American Spirit cigarettes.

“I can see why someone would want to stop selling them, because I guess cigarettes are bad,” Tabor said. “I’m not amazed or anything. It kind of stinks.”

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