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CVS’ tobacco decision making an impact, smoker poll shows

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MIAMI — A survey of cigarette smokers shows that CVS Health’s removal of tobacco products from its stores is working as planned.

CVS smoking cessation store displayElectronic cigarette maker V2 said Thursday that last week it polled 300 cigarette smokers nationwide, all of whom had previously purchased cigarettes from a CVS store. Of those respondents, 52% said CVS’ elimination of cigarettes sales has impacted their ability to buy cigarettes regularly.

Out of that group, 27% said CVS’ move made buying cigarettes “much harder,” while 73% described the impact as manageable, saying that “buying cigarettes is now harder but I have other options.”

When asked by V2 about how they feel about CVS’ decision to end tobacco sales, 43% of those surveyed said they’re “neutral” about the move and 24% agreed. Thirty-three percent disagreed.

Sixty percent of those that agreed with CVS’ move said the drug chain “sells health products” and cigarettes just “didn’t make sense” as part of the product mix. Also, 36% agreed because they thought the move “could help to reduce cigarette smoking” more broadly.

Of those that disagreed with CVS’ decision, 83% believed the retailer was singling out cigarettes over other products such as alcohol and candy. Fourteen percent said they disagreed because they bought most of their cigarettes at CVS before it eliminated tobacco sales.

Meanwhile, 44% of smokers polled called CVS’ elimination of tobacco sales good, saying that although CVS’ move made cigarettes harder to buy, “I want to quit smoking and this helps.” Just 23% called it a bad decision, citing inconvenience. Thirty-three percent were neutral about the move.

CVS announced its plan to stop selling tobacco products at all of its drug stores in February 2014. The chain officially ended of tobacco sales at its stores in early September 2014, almost a month ahead of its initial target date of Oct. 1.

Access to cigarettes was a key factor behind CVS’ decision. In September 2015, a year after CVS halted tobacco sales, a study by the CVS Health Research Institute revealed a reduction in cigarette purchases. Evaluating cigarette pack purchases at drug, food, big-box, dollar, convenience and gas station retailers in the eight months after CVS dropped tobacco product, the research found an additional 1% reduction in cigarette pack sales in states where CVS/pharmacy had a 15% or greater share of the retail pharmacy market, compared with states with no CVS/pharmacy stores. And during that time frame, the average smoker in those states bought five fewer cigarette packs and, overall, about 95 million fewer packs were sold.

“We know that more than two-thirds of smokers want to quit and that half of smokers try to quit each year. We also know that cigarette purchases are often spontaneous,” CVS Health chief medical officer Troy Brennan stated at the time. “So we reasoned that removing a convenient location to buy cigarettes could decrease overall tobacco use. This new data demonstrates that CVS Health’s decision to stop selling tobacco did indeed have a real public health impact.”

Since CVS stopped selling tobacco products, 39% of smokers in the V2 survey cited gas stations as the No. 1 choice where they now buy cigarettes. Walmart and Walgreens came in second, each cited by 20% of respondents. Third-place was a two-way tie between 7-Eleven and “a local store” that’s not part of a chain, both named by 8%. Rounding out the top five were dollar stores (7%) and Rite Aid (3%).

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