Professional Advice / Opinions:

CVS Pharmacy Takes Tobacco Off the Shelves

By: Ada Seldin, Staff Editor

CVS, the largest chain pharmacy in the United States, has announced that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its 7,600 retail stores on October 1, 2014. As such, CVS will be the first chain pharmacy in the U.S to remove tobacco products from its shelves.In the words of Larry J. Merlo, President and CEO of CVS Caremark, “the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”1 This bold move may reduce cigarette consumption, as well as the organization’s associated revenues. CVS is projected to lose $1.5 billion in tobacco sales and an additional $500 million in sales of other items to cigarette buying patrons. However, CVS executives assure shareholders that planned alternative ventures are expected to offset the profitability impact.2 In addition, because cigarette packs are taxed at a rate of $5.85 in New York City, a large portion of the sales of cigarettes does not translate into profits for the company.

Perhaps coincidentally, CVS Caremark’s announcement came just a month after the Surgeon General released the 2014 report on smoking, marking 50 years of progress. One of the endgame strategies proposed in the report was greater restriction on sales, including bans on entire classes of tobacco products. The actions of CVS follow this strategy and thus further the Surgeon General’s ultimate goals. The prevalence of smoking has declined from 42% in 1964 to the current 18%. However, it has remained relatively stagnant since 2002.3 The drastic action of CVS displays the approach needed to eradicate the smoking epidemic.

President Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, as well as prominent figures from the American Cancer Society and American Medical Association, commend CVS for safeguarding their clients’ health.1 The paradox of selling cigarettes in pharmacies has long been disputed. In 2010, the American Pharmacists Association urged pharmacies to stop selling tobacco products and suggested that state boards refuse to renew licenses of pharmacies that did not comply with these standards. Other health-related organizations have lobbied for similar ends. As pharmacies are becoming more clinically oriented, offering wellness programs, patient counseling, and even primary care services from clinicians, selling cigarettes in the same establishments is ever more contradictory. Pharmacists provide nicotine replacement products and advice that empowers people to quit, and physicians in retail clinics treat chronic diseases with causal relationships to tobacco consumption, while cigarettes remain readily available behind the counter. CVS decided that exiting the tobacco market was vital to promoting health and revamping its image, sending a powerful message to other chain and supermarket pharmacies.4 Whether the true motives behind CVS’s actions were altruistic in nature, a ploy to earn good publicity, or a mixture of the two, the end result is unmistakably positive.

CVS also announced that it will launch a smoking cessation program in the spring. This program will provide pharmacy and Minute Clinic customers with smoking cessation treatment and information, including online resources. Members of CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management will also be eligible for additional services.1

Whether other retail giants will follow suit is still unclear. According to representative Jim Graham, Walgreens continues to evaluate the pros of providing consumers what they want versus the negative impact of these products on their health.1 Removing cigarettes from the shelves at CVS may or may not cause many people to quit, but it does send a clear message that smoking is inconsistent with healthy living. Furthermore, if other large pharmacies partake in the ban, the accessibility to tobacco products will be significantly reduced.



  1. Landau, E. CVS stores to stop selling tobacco. CNN Health. Updated February 5, 2014. Accessed March 1, 2014.
  2. CVS Caremark to stop to stop selling tobacco at all CVS/pharmacy locations. CVS Caremark Website. Updated February 5, 2014. Accessed March 1, 2014
  3. The health consequences of smoking —50 years of progress: a report of the surgeon general. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC website. Accessed on Feb. 6, 2014.
  4. Brennan, T. Ending sales of tobacco products in pharmacies. JAMA Online First. Updated February 5, 2014. Accessed March 1, 2014.

[pubmed_related keyword1=”tobacco” keyword2=”health” keyword3=”pharmacy”]

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