CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by Oct. 1. The decision shows CVS’ corporate courage that prompts the growing need for drugstores to step up as today’s healthcare providers — institutions that are wholeheartedly committed to health, not just finances.
Having cigarettes available in pharmacies has long been a paradox, but apparently one that wasn’t obvious enough. As pharmacies retool themselves as key players under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, however, the perplexing contradiction has been brought to light. In a place where pharmacists counsel about wellness products and clinicians do outreach, the health agenda does not mesh well at all with the sale of tobacco products that bring about poor health.
This decision to ban tobacco is projected to cost the company $2 billion in sales, according to The New York Times. In the grand scheme of things, however, this loss is minimal considering the $123 billion worth of sales in 2012 for CVS. After all, the purpose of a pharmacy store — providing customers with care — should be the ultimate goal. It is the health of a patient that is bestowed on the company as a healthcare provider and vendor of medicine.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, smoking is today’s leading cause of preventable death worldwide. Though only 18 percent of U.S. adults smoke, according to the American Lung Association, the addiction still kills more than 392,000 Americans each year. It might be a while before the numbers begin to decline, but this is a major first step in the right direction. Not only is it another sign of CVS transforming into more of a healthcare provider than a retail business, but hopefully it will make clinics more appealing as the ACA comes into full effect. With the ban, CVS will now be able to strike deals with more traditional healthcare providers as a pharmacy that strives to reduce smoking rates among patients.
In hopes of truly making a change, CVS has succeeded with regard to closing off the gateway to smoking addiction. Though this might not immediately lead to regular smokers calling it quits, the fact that such a giant in the drugstore industry is banning cigarettes should be enough to urge other retailers to follow suit.
Making cigarettes less accessible will surely have an effect on smoking, particularly among young adults. Pharmacies and mass retailers must recognize their responsibility as promoters of better health and their commitment to health care, just as CVS has. As Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said, “We’re a long way from the endgame.” Yet at the same time, it’s a significant step closer.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.