CVS stores plan to stop selling tobacco

Company's bottom line expected to take $2 billion hit

Published On: Feb 05 2014 09:01:28 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 05 2014 10:34:47 PM CST

The fight against tobacco just gained a big ally Wednesday. The drug store chain CVS announced that it will stop selling tobacco products in its stores.

The stores will stop carrying them Oct. 1. While the move is being praised by health groups, the store’s bottom line will take a hit.

CVS CEO Larry Merlo said the company will lose $2 billion a year. CVS made about $123 billion in 2012. Merlo said it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make.

“It’s a real contradiction to talk about all the things we’re doing to help people on their path to better health, and at the same time sell tobacco products,” Merlo said.

“If you can actually save the health care system some resources that can be allocated to something else that’s less preventable, that’s a good thing,” Edgewood College Marketing Professor Dr. Moses Altsech said. “But if you can do that and save lives at the same time, boy, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

President Barack Obama even weighed in on the decision. He said in a statement, “As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today’s decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs -- ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.”

Altsech also expects CVS to earn back the money it’s giving up.

“Two billion dollars, it sounds like a lot of money, but when you have almost 8,000 locations, it’s not that hard to recoup that if suddenly, people who were indifferent between pharmacies are now specifically going to CVS,” Altsech said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 18 percent of Americans smoke. That’s down from 37 percent in the '70s, when the government banned television advertisements about smoking. There are also smoking restrictions in public places.

Longtime smoker “Gator” calls CVS’ latest effort inconvenient.

“I guess I’ll just have to find another place,” he said.

Gator buys his cigarettes from the CVS on West Washington Avenue in Madison. He’s been smoking for 50 years and doesn’t plan to quit, but acknowledges it’s not the best decision.

“It’s a bad habit,” he said.

The CDC reports tobacco use causes more than five million deaths a year. To further combat that, CVS will also launch a national smoking cessation program this spring and will include information and treatment at all its locations.