CVS Caremark pharmacies to halt tobacco sales

A stop sign is posted near CVS in Miami, Florida, on 5 February 2014 CVS said the sale of tobacco conflicted with its healthcare mission

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CVS Caremark, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the US, will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products, its chief executive has said.

The announcement drew swift praise from President Barack Obama, who said the move would save lives.

The 7,600 CVS shops in the US will have tobacco products off the shelves by 1 October, CEO Larry Merlo said.

The move will cost the company about $2bn (£1.22bn) in annual revenue but is "the right thing to do", he said.

"Tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is delivered," Mr Merlo said in a videotaped statement posted on the publicly traded company's website.

"When we asked ourselves where we expect to be in the future as a healthcare company, it became clear that removing tobacco products from our stores is the right thing to do."

'Powerful example'

Mr Merlo said CVS Caremark, which employs 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners, would be the first national pharmacy chain to take this action.

A cashier counts money in front of shelves full of cigarettes at a CVS store in New York City on 5 February 2014 The loss of tobacco revenue is expected to cost CVS Caremark nearly $2bn per year

He said the company's employees worked every day to help patients manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which he said were aggravated by tobacco use.

And he said the company would launch a smoking cessation programme in the spring, aimed at those who want to quit tobacco.

CVS Caremark, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, made $125bn in sales last year.

In a statement released by the White House, Mr Obama, who has himself struggled with a cigarette habit since he was young, applauded the "powerful" decision.

It "will help advance my administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down healthcare costs", Mr Obama said.

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death in the US, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans aged 35 years and older every year, according to a report this year by the US surgeon general.

Years of tightening restrictions on where smokers are allowed to light up, as well as effective public anti-tobacco campaigns and prohibitively high tobacco taxes have dramatically reduced the percentage of Americans who smoke.

About 18% of Americans are current cigarette smokers today, down from more than half of men and nearly a third of women in 1964, according to the surgeon general's report.

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