CVS Bans Tobacco for Good

Need to light up? Don't head to CVS.

February 5, 2014


Do you ever wonder why pharmacies are selling cigarettes, the very cause of so many of the nation's health problems? Well, at CVS Caremark pharmacies, that irony will cease to exist on October 1, 2014. That's the date that the pharmacy chain, America's second largest in terms of number of stores, will stop selling any tobacco products, making it the first U.S. pharmacy to make such a declaration.


Their decision comes on the heels of a new report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer finding that of the 8.2 million global cancer deaths that occur each year, 19 percent are from lung cancer, a disease caused almost always by cigarettes (a small portion of lung cancers are triggered by radon poisoning, air pollution, and other environmental factors). In the U.S., lung cancers kill more people than any other type, and it's the number one type of cancer diagnosed in both men and women. In addition to lung cancer, smoking can be linked to 480,000 deaths from heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and a variety of other health problems.

CVS's decision was lauded in an editorial published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled "Ending Sales of Tobacco Products in Pharmacies. "Advocates have long questioned the juxtaposition of the distribution of medications for promoting health with the sale of the single most deadly consumer product," the authors write. "Making cigarettes available in pharmacies in essence 'renormalizes' the product by sending the subtle message that it cannot be all that unhealthy if it is available for purchase where medicines are sold," adding that pharmacies in other developed countries don't sell cigarettes. The city of San Francisco has banned the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies, and in grocery stores that have pharmacies, as have a number of communities in Massachusetts, but those are the only such bans in the U.S.

The editorial also notes that pharmacies are now doing more than just dispensing drugs. In response to the dwindling number of primary care physicians, more and more pharmacies are offering basic health services provided by nurse practitioners and counseling by pharmacists, making the sale of cigarettes in what are becoming de facto doctor's offices that much more ironic.

CVS pharmacies are doing that as well with its 800 "MinuteClinic" locations, which have quickly become the nation's largest provider of retail health care. They make up about half of all such retail clinics, which are also located in some Walgreens, Target and Walmart stores. While Target stopped selling tobacco products in 1996, Walgreens and Walmart haven't said whether they'll also stop selling them.

According to CVS, tobacco sales account for $1.5 billion in annual sales, which the company appears to be making up for with sales of smoking-cessation products and programs aimed at its corporate "health benefit" partners.

Unfortunately, there are still lots of questionable products to dodge in pharmacies, the supermarket, and other convenience stores. For starters, avoid these 31 Pointless Foods.