Public health experts called the decision by the No. 2 U.S.
drugstore chain a precedent-setting step that could pressure other
retailers to follow suit. It comes at a time when pharmacies are
taking on a much bigger role in healthcare.
President Barack Obama, a former smoker, praised the move, saying
CVS had set a powerful example.
"Today's decision will help advance my Administration's efforts to
reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as
bring down healthcare costs," Obama said in a statement.
CVS, whose Caremark unit is a major pharmacy benefits manager for
corporations and the U.S. government's Medicare program, said the
decision would strengthen its position as a healthcare provider.
Pharmacists have had a long tradition of being a source of community
health information, a tradition drugstore chains have embraced by
putting walk-in clinics in their stores.
CVS started its MinuteClinic retail health centers in 2000 and is
now the largest U.S. pharmacy healthcare provider, with more than
800 locations across 28 states and the District of Columbia.
"I think CVS recognized that it was just paradoxical to be both a
seller of deadly products and a healthcare provider," U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden told
CVS Caremark Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen Brennan said in an
opinion piece he co-authored in the Journal of the American Medical
Association that the increased health coverage available through the
U.S. Affordable Care Act "comes with a price," that of promoting
Some U.S. cities, including Boston and San Francisco, already ban
the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, but nonsmoking advocates
hope the voluntary move by CVS will have a ripple effect across
other drugstore chains.
Walgreen Co, the largest pharmacy chain, and third-ranked Rite Aid
Corp said they would still sell cigarettes for now but would
continue to evaluate the product category.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which is the world's largest retailer and sells
cigarettes, declined to comment.
Some retailers stopped selling cigarettes years ago: Target Corp
decided to drop them in 1996, while East Coast supermarket chain
Wegmans Food Markets did so in 2008.
But being the first retail pharmacy chain to publicly ban tobacco
products gives CVS a major advantage as a leader in the growing
health and wellness trend.
"This is a trend we're going to see many, many retailers and food
companies jump on," said Alexandra von Plato, president and global
chief creative officer of Publicis Healthcare Communications Group.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said
CVS's announcement could help lead more people to quit smoking.
Although adult smoking rates have fallen from 43 percent of
Americans in 1965 to 18 percent currently, the habit remains the
leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing
more than 480,000 people each year.
Last month, the American Lung Association and other advocacy
organizations called on political leaders to commit to cutting
smoking rates to less than 10 percent of the population in a decade
and to protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five
SMALL FINANCIAL IMPACT
CVS said the decision would not make a big dent in its financial
results. The move will cost the company about $2 billion in annual
sales and 6 cents to 9 cents in profit per share this year. Analysts
expect 2014 revenue of $132.9 billion and earnings of $4.47 per
share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
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Declining smoking rates, along with new competition in the last two
years from the low-cost Family Dollar Stores Inc and Dollar General
Corp chains, suggest prospects for tobacco product sales were
shrinking at CVS. Dollar stores have far more locations and offer
goods at lower prices.
U.S. cigarette sales fell 31.3 percent between 2003 and 2013,
according to Euromonitor International.
"We believe the move will be viewed as a positive long-term decision
by CVS, despite the near-term profit drag, as it paves the way for
increased credibility with both healthcare consumers and payers,"
ISI Group analyst Ross Muken wrote in a note.
CVS's decision follows several recent deals bolstering the company's
position in the healthcare market.
In December, CVS said it expected its pharmacy benefit manager
revenue to rise between 7.25 percent and 8.5 percent in 2014, easily
outpacing growth of 2 percent to 3.25 percent in its retail
Also in December, CVS and pharmaceuticals distributor Cardinal
Health Inc announced a 10-year agreement to form the largest generic
drug sourcing operation in the United States. A month earlier, CVS
said it was buying Coram LLC, Apria Healthcare Group Inc's specialty
infusion services business.
CVS said it would replace some of lost cigarette sales through
smoking cessation programs at its pharmacies and through Caremark.
The company said the programs would be also be a key selling point
as it tries to land more corporate contracts this year.
Tobacco companies, meanwhile, shrugged off the announcement.
"It's up to retailers to decide if they're going to sell tobacco
products," said Altria Group spokesman Brian May. Altria, whose
brands include Marlboro, accounts for 46.5 percent of the U.S.
David Howard, a spokesman for Camel and Pall Mall cigarette maker
Reynolds American Services, said: "We value the long-term
relationship we had with CVS and respect their commercial decision."
Shares of Altria, Reynolds American and CVS were down about 1
percent in midday trading.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Nik Modi said he expected little impact
on tobacco companies, with more than 75 percent of sales coming from
convenience stores and only a small portion from drugstores.
What's more, Modi said, consumers will probably just go elsewhere to
But Dr. Richard Wender of the American Cancer Society said CVS's
move would have an effect.
"Every time we make it more difficult to purchase a pack of
cigarettes, someone quits."
(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York and
Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; editing by Jilian Mincer and Lisa
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