CVS Caremark Corp.'s decision to cease sales of tobacco products in its drug stores drew widespread praise, led by the White House.

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CVS hailed for plan to phase out tobacco products

February 5th, 2014

NEW YORK – CVS Caremark Corp.'s decision to cease sales of tobacco products in its drug stores drew widespread praise, led by the White House.

President Barack Obama said in a statement Wednesday that CVS' move reflects a commitment to public health and furthers his administration's efforts, under health care reform, to lower medical expenses while improving outcomes.

"I applaud this morning's news that CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores and begin a national campaign to help millions of Americans quit smoking instead," Obama stated. "As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today's decision will help advance my administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs — ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.

"I congratulate, and thank, the CEO of CVS Caremark, Larry Merlo, the board of directors, and all who helped make a choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country," the president added.

"CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today's decision will help advance my administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs."

— President Barack Obama

CVS said Wednesday it plans to end tobacco sales in its stores by Oct. 1. The company estimates that it will lose $2 billion annually in sales from tobacco consumers.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said Wednesday that CVS is demonstrating leadership "in helping to make the next generation tobacco-free."

"CVS Caremark's announcement that CVS/pharmacy stores will no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products is an unprecedented step in the retail industry. We also commend CVS Caremark on their new national smoking cessation program. With more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy locations, this private-sector health leader's new policy will have considerable impact," Sebelius said in a statement Wednesday.

The HHS secretary noted that last month she called on business, government and community leaders to participate in the Obama administration's effort to promote smoking cessation and discourage tobacco use, particularly among youths. She cited the recently released 50th Anniversary Surgeon General Report on smoking and health, which pointed out that almost 500,000 Americans die early each year because of smoking and that smoking costs the nation $289 billion annually. Each day, more than 3,200 U.S. youths under age 18 try their first cigarette, and more than 700 kids under 18 become daily smokers.

"If we fail to reverse course, 5.6 million American children alive today will die prematurely due to smoking. This is unacceptable," Sebelius stated. "We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to take tobacco products out of the hands of America's young generation and to help those who are addicted to quit. Today's CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation. I hope others will follow their lead in this important new step to curtail tobacco use."

The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) also applauded CVS' decision to remove tobacco products from its shelves and noted that the company joins a growing movement among health care providers to curtail access to tobacco products.

"Pharmacists are health care providers, and we must commit to limiting access to products that are known to cause disease and poor health," APhA executive vice president and CEO Thomas Menighan said in a statement Wednesday. "We are thrilled that CVS Caremark is making a courageous move by giving up tobacco sales in favor of moving the organization toward a focus on health and wellness. This action adds CVS Caremark to a long list of pharmacies that have already stopped the sale of these dangerous products."

Menighan noted that APhA opposes the sale of tobacco in pharmacies and has enacted a policy urging the removal of tobacco products from pharmacies and facilities that include pharmacies.

"We welcome CVS Caremark's commitment to health and wellness and its promise to remove tobacco products from their stores," commented Steven Simenson, president of APhA and a pharmacist. "As pharmacists step up to provide care to their patients, we cannot continue to sell known health hazards in our pharmacies. To improve the health of all Americans, pharmacy professionals must step up and join the many pharmacies before them who have removed tobacco products from their shelves."

According to the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA), CVS' decision comes at a time when California pharmacists are now authorized to independently prescribe and provide smoking cessation drugs and devices without a doctor's prescription. That authority was approved by the California legislature and signed by the governor through Senate Bill 493 on Oct. 1, 2013, and the expanded smoking cessation provisions went into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

CPhA said it has had an official policy calling for the removal of tobacco products from pharmacies since 2007. "We applaud CVS/pharmacy for taking this bold step. This move by CVS, coupled with the expanded authorities for pharmacists to offer prescription-strength smoking cessation products through S.B. 493, will help ensure that patients receive the best pharmacist care when trying to quit smoking," commented CPhA CEO Jon Roth.

The medical community also praised CVS for its decisive action regarding tobacco products.

Ardis Dee Hoven, president, American Medical Association (AMA), said in a statement, "The AMA applauds CVS Caremark for its decision to discontinue the sale of tobacco products in its stores and put the public's health first. By ending the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, CVS is helping to combat tobacco use by limiting the very access and availability that people have to tobacco products."

Hoven added that in 2009 the AMA passed a resolution opposing the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. "We commend CVS for putting public health ahead of their bottom line and recognizing the need for pharmacies to focus on supporting health and wellness instead of contributing to disease and death caused by tobacco use. We are hopeful that CVS's decision to end the sale of tobacco products will spur other pharmacies to follow suit to help improve the nation's health."

The American Lung Association commended CVS for making a "forward-thinking decision."

"CVS Caremark is stepping forward to save lives and safeguard the public health of millions of American women, men and youth," commented Harold Wimmer, national president of the American Lung Association. "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."

The American Heart Association noted that first use of cigarettes occurs by age 18 about 87% of the time, and 98% of first use is by age 26.

"Today's decision by CVS Caremark is an important step forward in reducing access to these deadly products, and we applaud their courage to put public health above profits," stated Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. "We recognize that $1.5 billion in tobacco sales represents a significant sum for CVS Caremark, and that makes this decision even more admirable."