Medical Community Applauds CVS Decision To Stop Tobacco Sales

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

Several leading medical organizations and professionals are applauding CVS Caremark’s decision to stop selling tobacco products in their stores.

The American Medical Association told CBS News in a statement that they felt the retail chain was putting the public’s health first and combating tobacco use by making it harder to obtain tobacco products.

“The AMA has been a proud supporter of anti-tobacco efforts over the years and has long supported efforts to remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from pharmacy shelves. In 2009, the AMA passed a resolution opposing the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies nationwide,” they said.

“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 AMA added.

CVS announced on Wednesday that they would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at all of their more than 7,600 CVS pharmacy locations by Oct. 1. CVS currently says it makes about $2 billion a year in sales of tobacco plus additional revenue from other items smokers purchase at the same time.

"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 press release. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."

Merlo told CBS This Morning that even though they may lose money from tobacco sales, it was the "right choice" for the future growth of the company. It eliminated the paradox of being a company that promoted health and well-being, while selling a product that's a major contributor to preventable health issues.

“It’s my job at the CEO to ensure that we’re positioning the company for not just short term success, but long term success,” he said. “We’re evolving into more of a health care company and we’re doing many things. We have 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners, who are helping millions of patients across the country everyday, manage conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes - all conditions whose effects are worsened by the impact of smoking.”

A JAMA commentary published on Feb. 5 supported CVS’ decision, pointing out that tobacco use causes $132 billion in medical costs and $157 billion in lost productivity. A Tobacco Control study in Aug. 2013 showed that smokers cost their employers an additional $5,800 a year compared to non-smoking workers because of time lost to smoking breaks and extra health care expenses.

“This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes. But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain,” the authors wrote.

The American Heart Association also voiced approval of the CVS move. The association asked other tobacco retailers, especially pharmacies, to make the same choice, and it issued a call for action to reduce smoking rates to less than 10 percent by 10 years from now; to protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years; and to end all preventable death and disease caused by tobacco.

“Tobacco use persists as the leading preventable cause of heart disease and stroke in our country,” the AHA said in a statement.

A JAMA study earlier in 2013 concluded that since a 1964 Surgeon General's report that showed tobacco use was harmful to people’s health, anti-smoking initiatives have saved about 8 million lives. Before the report, about 42 percent of adults smoked cigarettes. Now, the rate has dwindled to around 18 percent.

Simple measures that have proven to be effective include graphic warnings on cigarette packages, government ad campaigns, changing cigarette packaging to non-descript labels and increasing the cigarette tax.

Still, cigarette smoking causes more than 440,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary disease, stroke, lung cancer. Birth defects, male reproduction issues, bone health, dental health and cataracts. It can also make diabetes harder to control. It is linked to 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in men, and 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths in women.

Youth smoking is especially concerning because 88 percent of daily cigarette smokers smoked their first cigarette before the age of 18. About 38.1 percent of high school seniors said they had smoked a cigarette at some point in their life in a 2013 government survey. The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that they were launching their first campaign to target adolescent smokers to combat these issues.

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