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Thursday, September 4, 2014

CVS removes cigarettes from stores a month earlier than planned

The national pharmacy chain CVS, which has a half-dozen stores in Greater Nashua, sped up its plan to be the first major drugstore franchise to take cigarettes off the shelves, removing them all as of this week instead of Oct. 1 as planned.

It is also changing its corporate name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, underlying a shift in business plan to more service-oriented rather than sales activities. ...

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The national pharmacy chain CVS, which has a half-dozen stores in Greater Nashua, sped up its plan to be the first major drugstore franchise to take cigarettes off the shelves, removing them all as of this week instead of Oct. 1 as planned.

It is also changing its corporate name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, underlying a shift in business plan to more service-oriented rather than sales activities.

Many industry analysts say the move by CVS is a recognition of how the business of selling commodities from storefronts is under attack from online sales. The business of providing services at the same storefronts seems a safer bet, which is why last year it launched MinuteClinics in many stores.

The walk-in clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners, with oversight by physicians. In New Hampshire, the MinuteClinic oversight comes from Dartmouth-Hitchcock staff.

CVS has announced plans to expand its roughly 900 MinuteClinics to 1,700
nationwide by next year.

CVS, which has 7,700 retail locations, is the second-largest drugstore chain in the USA, behind Walgreens. It manages the pharmacy benefits for 65 million members.

CVS said its tobacco sales totaled about $2 billion a year, which is less than 2 percent of the $126 billion in revenue it made last year. Cigarettes are generally a low-margin business, with little profit in themselves for retailers. The company does not sell e-cigarettes, either.

The American Pharmacists Association called on drugstores to stop selling tobacco in March 2010 and several small, independent chains have done so, APA spokeswoman Michelle Spinnler says. No other national chain has followed suit.

“CVS’ announcement to stop selling tobacco products fully a month early sends a resounding message to the entire retail industry and to its customers that pharmacies should not be in the business of selling tobacco,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “This is truly an example of a corporation leading and setting a new standard.”

But a short drive from the Main Street, Nashua CVS, Gina Babeu stopped in at a Walgreen’s for a pack of cigarettes for both herself and her boyfriend. The message on the sign in front of the store advertised an upcoming health fair on September 5.

She said she got a heads up from a cashier at CVS that the chain would eliminate tobacco sales, forcing her to find another outlet. Babeu said she has both CVS and Walgreen’s on the way to work and home. “They’re both just on the way,” she said.

“CVS was the cheapest,” she said, “now Walgreen’s is.”

CVS says research shows its decision will have a big impact. A study the company is releasing Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs shows bans at pharmacies in Boston and San Francisco led to more than 13 percent fewer purchasers. Smokers didn’t just switch where they bought cigarettes and other tobacco products, some stopped buying them altogether.

Outside of the CVS on Main Street in Nashua, Tom Dewyngaert said “I suppose they’re doing the right thing, but I wonder how much they’re pushing the political thing.

“You’re not going to change people,” he said. “You can not sell cigarettes, but people are going to go somewhere else and get them.”

He wondered how much business they would lose, but figured it wouldn’t be much.

“To me it’s, whatever happened to choice and responsibility?” said Dewyngaert.

For many smokers, they’ll just go elsewhere.

“I’ll just get them at Cumberland Farms,” said Dewyngaert, “It’s no big deal.”

He added that smoking bans and overall change in attitude towards smoking has changed his habits a bit. He’ll smoke outside of buildings and said he doesn’t stay outside on smoke breaks very long in the wintertime.

“I don’t smoke as much as I used to,” he said.

Troyen Brennan, CVS’ chief medical officer, says if other pharmacies across the US followed suit by taking tobacco products, it would lead to 65,000 fewer deaths a year.

Ellen Hahn of the Tobacco Policy Research Program at the University of Kentucky says one chain not selling tobacco will have a limited effect, and other tobacco control strategies, such as price and tax increases and smoking bans, have been shown to be more effective.

Still, Hahn said, “every little bit helps because they are such a large chain. If every pharmacy would follow suit, that would be best. But this sends a clear message that pharmacies should not be selling tobacco.”