It's no secret that tobacco causes health problems. Cancer, stroke, heart disease and lung diseases are among the results of smoking, according to the CDC. More than 5 million deaths per year are caused by tobacco use. Smokers also tend to die 10 years before nonsmokers, according to the CDC.
Support from public health advocates
The company's announcement is "a huge step toward our country being able to have a really long-lasting culture of health," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest U.S. philanthropy devoted to public health.
In addition to eliminating a point of sale of tobacco, CVS Caremark's removal of tobacco products also takes away an advertising opportunity, said Robin Koval, president and CEO of Legacy, an organization that conducts research on tobacco use. Young people who shop at CVS/pharmacy for other reasons will no longer see the array of tobacco products available.
"It's obviously a landmark decision and one that I hope wakes up the entire retail industry that it's the right thing to do," Koval said.
A report from the California Department of Public Health found that while total cigarette sales decreased between 2005 and 2009 in the United States, sales in pharmacies increased. If sales of cigarettes at pharmacies continue rising at the current rate, by 2020 almost 15% of all U.S. cigarette sales will occur at pharmacies, the report said.
According to a 2011 study in Los Angeles, cited in the report, more than 32% of pharmacies sold cigarettes, and traditional chain pharmacies were far more likely to sell cigarettes than independently owned pharmacies.
Wender noted the CVS move is in line with what the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Lung Association and American Pharmacists Association have advocated: to stop sales of tobacco in retail outlets with pharmacies.
On the other side of the issue, there is a lot of money in tobacco. The cigarette industry spent $8.37 billion in 2011 on advertising and promotions, according to the CDC.
Most tobacco is sold in convenience stores, which would be "a tougher nut to crack" in terms of stopping tobacco sales, Wender said.
But pharmacies are a good place to start, Wender said. He is convinced the removal of tobacco products from CVS/pharmacy locations will result in some smokers quitting, particularly those who have a habit of buying their cigarettes there.
"It's going to force every one of them to pause and say, 'Why isn't my CVS selling cigarettes anymore?' " Wender said.