CVS To Stop Selling Tobacco

The Rhode Island-based retailer is the first major drugstore chain to remove tobacco from the shelves.

CVS logos via 360b/

360b /” target=”_blank”>CVS logos via 360b/

CVS is dropping the habit. The company will cease all tobacco sales in its 7,600 CVS/Pharmacy stores nationwide by October 1st of this year.

It’s a bold move from the nation’s second largest drugstore chain. A move that, according to CVS reps, will cost the company $2 billion. “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 J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The move makes sense. It’s always seemed odd to see Marlboro Lights less than six inches away from the nicotine patches. And as a former smoker, I know how hard it is to make that choice between buying a pack or buying “the gum.”

Merlo made an appearance on CBS’s This Morning Wednesday and told Charlie Rose, “… [the decision] underscores the role that CVS is playing in our health care system. There’s a growing emphasis on healthy outcomes, managing chronic disease.”  As for the $2 billion hit, Merlo said that it’s part of a long term strategy for the company that is “evolving into a health care company.” And while $2 billion is a monster number, it’s only 1.6 percent of the company’s $125 billion it makes a year, according to the National Journal.

Boston already banned tobacco sales in pharmacies back in 2009. The Herald reports that Worcester and more than 50 other communities imposed bans following Boston’s decision, which pretty much covers 40 percent of the state’s population.

Obviously, people will debate the topic. Many CVS’s (not here in Boston, but in other states) sell wine. Does that fit into their plans to become a “health care” company? What about candy bars? How far are they going to go? Whatever happens as the move evolves, removing tobacco is a fantastic first step.

Even President Barack Obama (who notoriously smoked for many years, even in the White House) praised the move. “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,” Obama said in a statement.

POLL: Did CVS make the right choice?