WEDNESDAY, Feb. 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The national drug store chain CVS Caremark said Wednesday that it's phasing out the sale of tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores across the United States.
The company said cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco will no longer be available at any of the stores by Oct. 1.
CVS said it's making the move because selling tobacco products isn't in keeping with a pharmacy's mission of helping to protect people's health. It said it's the first national pharmacy chain to halt the sale of tobacco products.
"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," Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a news release. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."
In a statement, the American Lung Association applauded the move by CVS.
The group "commends company leaders for their forward-thinking decision to prioritize the health and well-being of current and future customers and employees and for helping create a tobacco-free generation of youth," said ALA National President Harold Wimmer.
"We urge more retailers to take note of CVS Caremark's actions and join in efforts to help reduce access to tobacco and tobacco use, and eliminate tobacco-caused deaths and disease," Wimmer added.
Smoking is the leading cause of premature disease and death in the United States with more than 480,000 deaths annually. While the number of Americans who smoke has dropped from about 42 percent of adults in 1965 to 18 percent today, more interventions -- such as reducing the availability of cigarettes -- are needed, the CVS news release said.
Writing in a Journal of the American Medical Association "Viewpoint" article published online Wednesday, CVS chief medical officer Dr. Troyen Brennan and co-author Dr. Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said that "the paradox of cigarette sales in pharmacies has become even more relevant recently, in large part because of changes in the pharmacy industry. "
They added that "most pharmacy chains are retooling themselves as an integral part of the health care system. They are offering more counseling by pharmacists, an array of wellness products and outreach to clinicians and health care centers.
"Perhaps more important, pharmacies are moving into the treatment arena, with the advent of retail health clinics. These retail clinics, originally designed to address common acute infections, are gearing up to work with primary care clinicians to assist in treating hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes -- all conditions exacerbated by smoking," the doctors wrote.
They added that a new emphasis on restricting tobacco availability and reinforcing the social unacceptability of smoking conflicts with pharmacies' sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
"Advocates have long questioned the juxtaposition of the distribution of medications for promoting health with the sale of the single most deadly consumer product. This is primarily a U.S. problem: pharmacies in other developed countries do not sell cigarettes," the doctors said.
The CVS decision will cost the company an estimated $1.5 billion in yearly tobacco sales, the authors of the JAMA article said.
SOURCES: Feb. 5, 2014, news release, CVS Caremark, Woonsocket, R.I., Feb. 5, 2014, news release, Journal of the American Medical Association; news release, American Lung Association