Pharmacists Praise CVS for Quitting Tobacco
For years, the American Pharmacists Association has been calling for U.S. pharmacies to end tobacco sales, noting their clear health dangers. On Wednesday, CVS Caremark followed through—to widespread praise from the medical community.
It took a few years for its impact to be fully felt, but the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) scored a big victory Wednesday in its anti-tobacco campaign.
CVS Caremark, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain based on total prescription revenue, has agreed to stop selling tobacco products, citing the inherent incongruity of the practice with the company’s health-conscious mission—despite the fact that the change will cost it billions of dollars. The company plans to transition the products out by October.
“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,” President and CEO Larry J. Merlo said in statement. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
An Association’s Tough Stance
The move comes nearly four years after the APhA took a hard line with its 2010 call for pharmacies—as well as businesses that contain pharmacies, such as Target and Wal-Mart—to stop selling tobacco. (Target previously stopped selling tobacco in 1996, citing cost concerns, according to The New York Times.)
Policies adopted by the APhA House of Delegates that year went beyond simply denouncing tobacco’s sale; the association suggested measures designed to pressure pharmacies to change their practices. Among other things, APhA asked state and federal boards to refrain from licensing pharmacies that sell tobacco products; urged pharmacy schools to partner for training programs only with pharmacies that don’t sell them; and even suggested that job-seeking pharmacists look first at businesses that don’t sell tobacco.
APhA isn’t alone in its crusade against tobacco sales. As noted in an article published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Lung Association all have made similar calls in recent years.
APhA CEO Thomas E. Menighan praised CVS’s decision in a blog post Wednesday. “I offer a serious congrats to CVS Caremark and all the pharmacists who have made similar moves in their pharmacies,” wrote Menighan, who lost his own father to smoking-related cancer in 1986.
A Changing Industry
The move by CVS comes at a time when the pharmacy industry is expanding its scope, a change noted by JAMA contributors Dr. Troyen A. Brennan—the CVS chief medical officer—and Dr. Steven A. Schroeder.
“Responding to the overall shortage of primary care practitioners in the United States and to recent legislation that expands access to healthcare coverage, most pharmacy chains are retooling themselves as an integral part of the healthcare system,” they wrote.
Many pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens and Rite Aid, are now offering low-cost primary healthcare and other expanded services that can help fill the gap between buying a bottle of aspirin and visiting a doctor. CVS has launched more than 800 MinuteClinics, medical clinics inside pharmacies in its stores, according to CNN.
Brennan and Schroeder noted that the CVS move to stop tobacco sales could be the first step toward full industry support—even if its competitors don’t immediately follow suit.
“This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes,” they wrote. “But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain.”
Clarification: A previous version of this story noted that the APhA’s 2010 call to stop selling tobacco focused on businesses with secondary pharmacy offerings, such as Target. However, the story did not note that Target has not sold tobacco products since 1996. We regret the omission.