CVS Ban On Cigarettes Sparks National Debate

CVS has recently announced their decision to stop selling cigarettes. The second largest pharmacy chain in the nation claims that by not selling tobacco products, it will cost them more than it costs the tobacco companies, but that it is a step in the right direction for them. They believe that in the long term it may decrease the amount of people smoking, and provide an opportunity to E-cigarette manufacturers.

According to CEO Larry Merlo, banning tobacco products is the correct decision, even though it may cost the company up to $2 billion in annual revenue.  He stated on CBS this morning that “There’s a growing focus and emphasis on health outcomes, managing chronic disease and, by the way, more than half of all Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases, as well as focusing on controlling and reducing health care costs.”

Walgreens, which is currently the nation’s largest drug store, has said that it is still thinking about getting rid of tobacco sold in its stores. However, still has not come to any conclusive decision.

In an email from the Walgreens spokesperson Emily Hartwig she stated “We have been evaluating this product category for some time to balance the choices our customers expect from us, with their ongoing health needs. We will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customer’s want, while also helping to educate them and providing smoking cessation products and alternatives that help to reduce the demand for tobacco products.”

According to The American Lung Association “In 2008, 21.1 million (18.3%) women smoked in the United States compared to 24.8 million (23.1%) men.”  Along with stress and high blood pressure, smoking is one of the biggest causes of early death in the U.S.  Doctors have warned against smoking for decades now and finally the trend is shifting toward alternatives.

Even if both CVS and Walgreens were to together stop the sales of tobacco, it wouldn’t hurt the tobacco companies too much. Drugstores only account for 4 percent of the total sales of tobacco in the U.S. The largest contributor is gas stations, nearly half of all cigarettes are currently purchased in gas stations around the country. Dollar discount stores may even end up making up for whatever loss is felt from CVS. Last year Dollar General claimed that it was doing an aggressive rollout of tobacco and currently carries tobacco in over 10,000 stores.

The sales of tobacco have been on a steady decline in the U.S. This is mainly due to social pressure, as well as health concerns from the general public. Other affecting factors could include things such as high taxes on cigarettes. According to the Federal Trade Commission in 2001 tobacco companies sold $402 billion in cigarettes in the U.S.  In comparison in 2011, they only sold $274 billion. Also according to statistics only 19% of adults smoke cigarettes in the United States when in comparison almost 33% were smoking cigarettes in 1980.

Currently E-cigarette companies are trying to use CVS’s decision as a jumping point to gain more popularity.  They claim that their products are a safe alternative to smoking that can help smokers shake the health damaging habits of cigarettes. The E-cigarettes, in their simplest form, are plastic tubes which turn water into vapor in order to simulate smoke. The vapor is able to bring nicotine and the sensation of smoking to the users, without the problems that normal smoking can cause, although it is still under review by the FDA.  CVS mentioned that if and when the devices get approval it would consider selling more of them in their stores.

Dr. Earl Eye, M.D. is a graduate of the West Virginia University School of Medicine and leads the Cenegenics Institute in Jacksonville, FL