Obama Commends CVS Tobacco Ban

Photograph by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

A CVS Caremark Corp. store in New York City.

President Barack Obama, a reformed smoker, is commending CVS Caremark this morning for phasing out the sale of tobacco products in its national chain of stores.

The action by the major retailer and statement by the president come at a time of increased  efforts on the part of the federal government to stem smoking, particularly among young people. The Food and Drug Administration has launched a series of ads focused on the side-effects of smoking, such as wrinkled skin and tooth stain and decay, aimed at getting the attention of teenagers playing with cigarettes and not yet hooked.

“I applaud this morning’s news that CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores, and begin a national campaign to help millions of Americans quit smoking instead,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House 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. ”

The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain announced today that it will phase out the sale of cigarettes cigars and chewing tobacco at its 7,600 stores by Oct. 1, a move that will cost about $2 billion in annual revenue but won’t affect its 2014 earnings forecast. CVS Caremark leaders say removing tobacco will actually help its business — as it works with health care providers to improve the health of its customers.

CVS Caremark Corp. and other pharmacy chains have been adding health clinics to their line of business. Their pharmacists deliver flu shots and other immunizations and assist people in management of chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

CEO Larry Merlo notes that these conditions are worsened by smoking. “We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” Merlo said in a statement issued by his company.

CVS is “the first national pharmacy chain to take this step in support of the health and well-being of its patients and customers,” as Bloomberg’s Niamh Ring reports this morning.

“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,”  Merlo said. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

Obama himself has fought a smoking addiction during his years in the White House, and said the Caremark CVS move will help others kick the habit.

“I congratulate – and thank – the CEO of CVS Caremark, Larry Merlo, the board of directors, and all who helped make a choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country,” Obama said in the White House-issued statement.

As Bloomberg’s Anna Edney has reported, “a half century after linking smoking to lung cancer, the U.S. is confronting stalled progress in kicking the habit of 42 million Americans with new evidence that many common ailments such as diabetes, arthritis and impotence can be tied to tobacco use.”

Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak earlier this year criticized the “fraudulent campaigns” by cigarette companies, weaknesses in regulation and a rebound in smoking depicted in Hollywood films. He said he’s considering greater restrictions on sales to achieve “a society free of tobacco-related death and disease.”

“While a landmark 1964 report on smoking and lung cancer helped cut cigarette use by more than half to 18 percent of U.S. adults,” Edney reported Jan. 17, “the decline has slowed. Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death, killing 480,000 people each year, and the U.S. may miss a 2020 goal of limiting to 12 percent the share of smoking adults, today’s report shows.”

“Enough is enough,” Lushniak said at a news conference inWashington where he presented a 900-page report. “It’s astonishing that so many years later we’re still making these findings.”



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