Minnesota’s current “Still a Problem” ads are good reminders that anti-smoking efforts are still needed. Though U.S. tobacco use has declined from the 1960s and ’70s, about 18 percent of American adults lit up regularly in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s nearly 42 million people, including 692,000 Minnesotans. And that doesn’t count the estimated 77,000 middle school and high school smokers in the state.
With millions of Americans puffing away at $5 to $7 a pack, tobacco continues to be big business. That’s among the reasons why CVS Caremark Corp. should be applauded for its recent decision to stop selling cigarettes.
This week, CVS said it would take cigarettes and tobacco products off the shelves at its 7,600 stores, beginning Oct. 1. The company had about $1.5 billion in tobacco sales last year and another $500 million for other items smokers bought when they came in for cigarettes. Many retailers would be loath to voluntarily do away with a product that can drive that kind of store revenue and traffic.
But CVS officials said smoking is antithetical to the company’s main mission — the health business. It is hypocritical to run a health clinic and sell cigarettes in the same store.
CVS execs believe they can earn as much or more by focusing on the health side of the business. However, industry analysts point out that CVS is uniquely positioned among large retailer/pharmacies because a large share of its revenue comes from running prescription-drug plans for businesses, insurers and others.
In fact, CVS isn’t the first drugstore to take this important step. The National Community Pharmacists Association reports that most small, independent drugstores don’t sell tobacco. CVS is believed to be one of the first major drugstore chains to make this move, which should encourage competitors like Rite Aid and Walgreens to follow suit.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration say smoking remains the No. 1 preventable cause of illness and death. About 480,000 people die from tobacco use every year, including 50,000 affected by secondhand smoke.
Prevention efforts can help keep young people from starting to smoke in the first place. And retailers can help by limiting the number of outlets where tobacco is sold.