The pharmacy chain CVS announced this morning that it will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products at its 7,600 stories nationwide later this year.
The sales will stop Oct. 1 and will cost the company an estimated $2 billion in revenue, but many believe it could be a turning point in retail.
"Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health," Larry J. Merlo, President and CEO, CVS Caremark said in a statement. "Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."
Merlo continued, "As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners."
The company pointed to an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published online this morning by CVS Caremark's chief medical officer, Troyen A. Brennan, and Steven A. Schroeder, the director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
They wrote: "The paradox of cigarette sales in pharmacies has become even more relevant recently, in large part because of changes in the pharmacy industry. Most pharmacy chains are retooling themselves as an integral part of the health care system."
CVS and other drugstore chains have steadily been taking more of a role in providing health care by adding clinics to their stores. Pharmacists deliver flu shots and other immunizations and the clinics expand to other care. As a result, CVS felt it was no longer responsible to sell cigarettes where it provides health care.
Though the Rhode Island-based company says the decision to stop selling tobacco products will hurt revenue, it expects it will help its health care business grow.
President Obama, once a smoker, praised the effort in a statement issued this morning.
"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," Obama said.
Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, called the initiative an "unprecedented step in the retail industry" and keeps with the administration's goal of making, "the next generation tobacco-free."