CVS Health surprised the health care community earlier this month when it became the first and only national pharmacy chain to discontinue sales of tobacco products—and 1 month ahead of schedule, to boot.
 
The company first announced its plans to remove cigarettes from its stores in February 2014, projecting that all tobacco products would be removed by October 1, 2014. CVS Health’s decision to halt tobacco sales aligns with positions taken by a range of health care and public health organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Pharmacists Association.
 
The move was also supported by preliminary research conducted by CVS Health, which indicated that removing tobacco products from pharmacies is associated with reductions in the number of individuals who purchase those products. In the study, the company looked at the potential real-world benefits of removing tobacco from its shelves in Boston and San Francisco, which enacted policies that eliminated the sale of cigarettes in stores with retail pharmacies.
 
The number of unique patients from a consumer household panel who purchased cigarettes was measured across both cities for 25 months before and 36 months after the tobacco products were removed from the pharmacies. To assess tobacco sale trends in cities that do not have policies to remove cigarettes from pharmacies, the analysis also evaluated the number of smokers in Baltimore and Seattle in the same time frame.
 
After the policies were implemented, the average number of unique tobacco customers decreased by 13.29%, CVS Health found. After controlling for baseline rates of smoking over time, the number of unique patients purchasing cigarettes decreased by 5.5% following the ban on tobacco products.
 
The number of households purchasing coffee, soda, or pain relievers did not significantly change throughout the study period in both cities. In addition, tobacco use did not decrease in Seattle and Baltimore following the bans.
 
“The implications of a reduction of this size are significant,” a CVS Health spokesperson said in an exclusive interview with Pharmacy Times. “If retailers with pharmacies across the country were to forgo sales of tobacco products, there could be 25,000 to 60,000 fewer tobacco-related deaths per year.”
 
The study authors were not surprised by their findings.
 
“About 70% of smokers are trying to quit and, for many of them, the purchase of tobacco is an impulsive decision,” the spokesperson said. “So, it is not surprising that removing that product from their line of sight each time they pause at checkout would impact smoking rates.”
 
In addition to removing cigarettes from its stores, the company has also developed the CVS Health smoking cessation program to help patients quit tobacco. Combining the efforts of CVS/pharmacy, CVS/minuteclinic, and CVS/caremark, the program includes an assessment of a patient’s readiness to quit, education to give patients the information and tools needed to quit, medication support to help suppress cravings, and coaching to keep patients on track.
 
The cessation program and the removal of tobacco products both reflect the company’s broadening focus on the health care needs of patients. To further advance this initiative, the company also announced its official corporate name change from CVS Caremark to CVS Health earlier this month.
 
“Our retail business is evolving as a health care company. What that means for us is more fully serving people’s needs for convenience, affordability, and access,” the spokesperson said. “It means connecting with physicians and health systems as part of a total health care system to help deliver greater access, better outcomes, and stronger value.”