CVS, the huge pharmacy chain, took a bold step last week when it decided to give up cigarettes.
Like anyone kicking a bad habit, CVS Caremark Corp. had a personal reason for doing so and, like anyone who quits smoking, the company made its decision based on health. CVS operates 800 medical clinics in its pharmacies, more than any other chain, and it wants to increase that number to 1,500 in the next three years. Since the company is expanding its mission from a tradition retail outlet to include being a health care provider, selling proven carcinogens posed a dilemma.
CVS will stop selling tobacco products by October. The decision won’t cripple the tobacco industry; all drugstores nationwide, including CVS, account for only 3.6 percent of cigarette sales. The big sellers by far are gas stations, with a 47.5 percent share.
Some have suggested that CVS has more to gain in public relations than it will lose by taking tobacco products off the shelves of its stores, but let’s give credit where credit is due. CVS took the side of healthy habits and other drugstores could, and should, follow suit. After all, it wasn’t long ago that restaurants and other businesses started banning indoor smoking, even before the law in many jurisdictions required it.
A handful of municipalities, including San Francisco and Boston, already have laws to curtail the sale of tobacco at stores that contain a pharmacy.
No one is suggesting that customers who have been purchasing tobacco at CVS won’t have ample alternatives. Nonetheless, there is evidence that reducing the convenience of buying tobacco lowers the likelihood that some customers — particularly young people — will pick up a habit that can kill.
Here’s hoping that CVS is at the vanguard of the next big battle against the number one cause of preventable death.