CVS' decision to pull tobacco products a watershed moment for pharmacy

CVS Caremark made big news — BIG news — when it announced on Feb. 5 that it would pull tobacco products from all of its pharmacy locations.

This is an extremely important step for the company as it sends the strong message that it is truly dedicated to helping people on their path to better health. Stripping away the roughly $2 billion in revenues garnered from the tobacco shopper likely wasn’t an easy decision, but it makes sense — a lot of sense — for CVS. It clearly demonstrates to its shoppers, health systems and PBM clients that it is placing patients’ health front and center.

As Larry Merlo, president and CEO, put it, “The significant action we're taking today by removing tobacco products from our retail shelves further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients and healthcare providers and better positions us for continued growth in the evolving healthcare marketplace."

CVS Caremark immediately received a flood of accolades for the decision, topped news headlines in consumer media and rocked the social media universe.

In addition to the White House, a string of groups issued statements in support of CVS Caremark’s decision, including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, American Pharmacists Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Legacy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Business Group on Health.

“With 480,000 Americans losing their lives annually to tobacco, this new business decision is a watershed moment in the pharmacy business, and one public health leaders like Legacy hope will quickly be emulated by all businesses that have pharmacies on site, including national grocery store chains who purport to encourage health and wellness, but ironically continue to sell products resulting in the No. 1 preventable cause of death,” Legacy stated.

“CVS and its leaders are to be commended for taking this bold and important step," stated Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "We also are very pleased to see that CVS plans to launch a national smoking-cessation program, in addition to removing cigarettes and tobacco products for sale. The smoking-cessation program comes at a time when employers all across the country are taking initiatives to help their employees quit smoking and get healthy."

Meanwhile, people took to social media to commend the pharmacy retailer for the bold move.

“I will choose CVS over other stores just because of this,” wrote one fan on CVS’ Facebook page.

“I am going to do everything I can to buy as much as possible at your store! A company with a heart and great deals! You guys rock! You guys are my heroes! It takes a lot of guts to make a bold move like this!! Much respect!” wrote another Facebook fan.

Another Facebook fan wrote, “I just lost my Mother to COPD on Jan 24th. It is a start!!! Let it begin here!!!”

Time will tell if other retailers will follow CVS’ lead but one thing is certain — people are closely watching.

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