Nation’s CVS stores to snuff out cigarette sales

Tony Casey • Feb 5, 2014 at 9:14 PM

The biggest question on the heels of an announcement made by the second-biggest pharmacy in the country, CVS Caremark, to stop selling all tobacco products will be if this will be the catalyst to an explosion of the same from CVS’ counterparts, or if it will be an isolated business decision.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Caremark, told the Associated Press. He called the decision “the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health.”

Not an immediate change, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and all other tobacco-related products will be discontinued by Oct. 1 in all CVS stores.

At CVS’ location on West Market Street, a manager said he’d learned about the upcoming change through the news, and that an official announcement hadn’t yet come through the company, and he couldn’t speak on the matter.

It’s projected CVS will lose $2 billion in revenue this year, but doesn’t expect a drop in money in the long run, saying the decision to cut out the cancer-causing products better suits a company that represents itself as a health-promoting entity.

That’s a perfectly fine position to hold, said Mike Cloke, a smoker from Wisconsin who was traveling through and stopping by the West Market location Wednesday. He said CVS’ news wouldn’t deter him from smoking overall, unless it was a widespread trend for stores to cut out tobacco products, in which case he would consider quitting.

“My biggest thing is, if everyone thinks tobacco is so bad, make it like drugs — illegal,” Cloke said.

Cloke, a military retiree, said he buys most of his cigarettes from military bases that tend to match prices of other stores. He said he wouldn’t stop shopping at CVS just for that, and it would just send him elsewhere to get cigarettes.

Dr. Hadii Mamuda, an assistant professor at the College of Public Health at East Tennessee State University, sees this as a trend the public can get used to and something worth celebrating. He said the initial impact on CVS’ bottom line will be outweighed by the long-term support it will gain from people who want to do business with a nationally-known pharmacy.

Walgreens, the only drugstore in the country larger than CVS in terms of number of pharmacists (10,151 to 10,578, as reported by the National Pharmacy Market Summary done by SK & A in 2010), although not as numerous in locations, said they were considering their decision to continue selling tobacco products after CVS’ decision.

Making smoking more socially unacceptable is the most striking trend Mamuda sees with CVS cutting tobacco products. It’s the advertising, particularly the point-of-sale advertising, that will be affected by the decision. Many people, Mamuda said, will jump at the opportunity to frequent a health-conscious pharmacy. In 2010, Mamuda said, the tobacco companies spent more than $8 billion on advertising alone, with $100 million going directly to point-o-sale advertising.

Many of those people, he said, might be smokers who have tried to quit smoking, and will enjoy a checkout counter without a backdrop of cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as shrinking the opportunity of someone making an impulse buy, too.

The impact will be vast, Mamuda said, in combatting the 9,000-plus tobacco-related deaths per year in Tennessee. The company most likely found themselves in a tough business spot, Mamuda said, trying to hold to a healthy image, and also selling the top-ranked killer in the country: tobacco.

“Wow. What a paradox,” Mamuda said. “They were promoting health and ill health at the same time.”

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