Other drugstores should follow CVS in ending tobacco sales

February 7, 2014 

What’s unusual about the CVS Caremark pharmacy chain’s decision to stop selling cigarettes is that it’s considered unusual. Why is any drugstore still selling a cancer-causing product? How can a pharmacist counsel a customer about caring for an illness – or perhaps about the best smoking cessation product – while a clerk in the front of the store is selling cigarettes?

The obvious disconnect moved CVS to take cigarettes off its list of products sold in its 7,600 stores.

“We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting,” said the chain’s CEO, Larry Merlo.

Now other drugstores may be shamed into abandoning the practice of abetting people hooked on the smoking habit even as they sell products for better health.

The tobacco industry, which long ago grew immune to embarrassment about its product, shrugged at CVS’s getting out of cigarette sales. David P. Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in Winston-Salem, said the industry appreciated CVS’s long years of selling cigarettes and noted that the exit of the nation’s largest pharmacy chain in overall sales won’t be a big loss for cigarette sales. In 2012, only 3.6 percent of cigarettes sold in the United States were sold in drugstores.

Still, it was hard for CVS to quit. Merlo said not stocking cigarettes would cost CVS some $2 billion in sales of tobacco and other products picked up by customers who come in to buy cigarettes.

But CVS’s financial loss may be more than made up by increased goodwill and respect for the company’s commitment to its customers’ health.

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