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Why CVS Pharmacy tobacco ban is not just smoke and mirrors

If you smoke, you will not longer be able to buy your favorite lipstick and a pack of cigarettes at CVS Pharmacies. In what is being hailed as a groundbreaking decision, CVS Pharmacy announced yesterday (Feb. 5, 2014) to stamp out tobacco sales in all its stores by Oct. 2014. And, if you want to quit smoking, CVS is here to help.

Tobacco is promoted to women as a buffer for negative feelings, a time-out from stress.
Tobacco is promoted to women as a buffer for negative feelings, a time-out from stress.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
CVS Pharmacy Stops Tobacco Sales
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The company made the decision because it was counter to their mission of improving the health and lives of its customers. CVS is increasingly immersing itself in the act of providing healthcare with in-store clinics, so selling tobacco was perceived as a questionable practice by the company's decision makers.

Banning sales isn't enough to stop tobacco use, which is why CVS is also offering smoking cessation therapy, to be paid by insurance or out of pocket costs. The pharmacy will provide counseling sessions with a health practitioner and if needed, nicotine-replacement gum, lozenges or patches, as well as prescription cessation drugs like Chantix and Zyban. CVS does not sell e-cigarettes that vaporize nicotine.

"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 through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners," the company said in a press statement. "By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do."

Healthcare experts lauded the bold move. "The Public Health Institute applauds CVS Caremark for its decision to stop the sale of tobacco products in its retail stores. CVS sets a high bar for other industries and companies, showing courage and a commitment to prioritizing the health of its customers."

It is estimated that the company sold $1.5 billion in tobacco sales and $500 million in sales of other products annually to tobacco customers, according to Business Insider. However, health experts say the total cost of tobacco use in the United States is at least $193 billion in annual health-related economic losses (nearly $96 billion in direct medical costs and an additional $97 billion in lost productivity). The Centers for Disease Control estimates that cigarette smoking results in 5.1 million years of potential life lost in the United States annually.

See the slideshow for why women smoke and watch the video for more on how cigarette makers are using old-fashioned US marketing to promote women smokers in India.

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