CVS to become first major U.S. pharmacy to stop selling cigarettes

Anthony Komaroff, MD

Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter

Cigarettes, cigars, and the like are the most deadly product that consumers can legally buy. Why they are sold in pharmacies, which are meant to dispense medications and other things designed to heal or promote health, has always been a mystery to me. I’m not alone. The American Pharmacists Association, the American Medical Association, and other groups have urged pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes.

Several major pharmacy chains have been mulling over whether they should take this advice. Today, one of them has acted. The CVS chain has decided to stop selling tobacco products, and will phase out their sales over the next year. The news came in a press release from CVS and an opinion piece published today in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors of the article are Dr. Troyen Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer of CVS Caremark, and Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California San Francisco. (Full disclosure: both have been close colleagues of mine for many years.)

A shrinking circle

Fifty years ago, when the Surgeon General issued his famous document summarizing the health risks of smoking, more than 40% of American adults smoked. It was okay to smoke anywhere and everywhere—in restaurants, grocery stores, airplanes, and even in hospitals. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where I work, became one of the first hospitals to ban smoking inside its buildings.

Efforts to limit where people can smoke and buy cigarettes and other tobacco products has helped reduce the number of smokers to about 18% of adults in the United States. Increasing the cost through taxes has also put a dent in the number of smokers.

But we need to do more. There’s abundant evidence that making tobacco products hard to get reduces their rate of use. So I applaud CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco products in its stores. With this public announcement from its chief medical officer, CVS is claiming the high ground. The company estimates that it takes in $1.5 billion a year from selling tobacco products, but “the financial gain is outweighed by the paradox in promoting health while contributing to tobacco-related deaths.”

Pharmacists will likely cheer the decision. According to Brennan and Schroeder, one survey of pharmacists showed that only 2% of them favor the sale of tobacco products in their stores.

It also makes sense as large chains begin to make themselves over as health care outlets, with in-store retail clinics. It has always been sadly ironic to see someone come to a drug store to get his or her medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or pain from metastatic cancer—and then stop at checkout and get a pack of the substance that caused and continues to perpetuate those illnesses.

I hope other pharmacies follow CVS’s lead. It would be a good step toward “making smoking history.”

Related Information: How to Quit Smoking


  1. jasa penerjemah di jakarta

    Indonesian health official study results. in Indonesia, especially in Bali, people are smoking more than drinking alcohol. there are 70% men and 30% of women there. I am as Indonesian people are not comfortable with this

  2. PTC

    It’s all about making money.

  3. Prakash Chand

    Hello, my name is Prakash Chand and I am the founder of medical website

    I could not be happier to hear that CVS is banning cigarettes. On a personal level I don’t support sporting events that are sponsored by cigarette companies.

    Its honestly very refreshing to see corporations not caring for profit but caring to help people.

  4. Sonny

    I think this is a fascinating topic centered around being vague and obscure. The fundamental of CVS becoming anti-tobacco while leaving the door wide open for electronic cigarette companies is an interesting view, especially since they’ve commented publicly that they’re waiting to hear the FDA’s comments on this controversial e-cigarette topic. While one side of me says, CVS Caremark is a RX/Pharmacy company where Big Pharma is anti-e-cig’s due to manufactures GlaxoSmith (Nicorette) and Johnson & Johnson (the nicotine patch) both nicotine sensation step reduction drugs promoted at CVS; the other side of me is curious when top rated electronic cigarette manufactures like SimpleMist in Denver CO are seeing CVS as a potential opportunity.

    It also is interesting that the company GreenSmoke was purchased by Phillip Morris 3 days before this announcement for $110M.

    It will be interesting to see where this industry ends up and how CVS will respond to putting their products on the shelves.

    Although, I do have to say I have tried SimpleMist and GreenSmoke and they’re actually a pretty good alternative product to tobacco cigarettes without the harmful chemicals (though still to be determined by the FDA). I guess we’ll see?

    • anonymous

      I’m certain that cvs will carry top brand suppliers and others. They did claim they’re going to wait to hear what the FDA says, but I believe that’s why they’re waiting till October. It’ll give them enough time to setup and evaluate their suppliers.

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  6. Amy

    I agree with Jo, and I’d bet anything that once it’s legal in a state where there’s a CVS, they’ll be selling marijuana…

  7. Jai

    That’s funny-these same pharmacies sell alcohol by the case loads. And I just happened to read about a 21 year old who caused a multi-car pile up in California that killed 6 people-4 of them instantly, and the other two shortly after. Yet, smoking is the root of all of the health related problems? And um…has anyone thought of the fact that pharmacies are selling products that harm people as well? Such as the medication you get that causes severe liver damage, perforation of the stomach, ulcers, severe bloating, glaucoma, myocardial infarction, blindness, suicidal thoughts-oh the list goes on. This whole thing about smoking is about as stupid as Boulder, CO’s banning on smoking cigarettes on your front porch, but legalizing toking on the bong in the street! Where does the garbage end?

  8. Muhammad Hernawan

    Giving up $1.5 billion of annual sales is stupid. If some one wishes to smoke, let them. CVS is not a dictator. Does Obama smoke?

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  11. Matt Donnelly

    Giving up $1.5 billion of annual sales is stupid. If some one wishes to smoke, let them. CVS is not a dictator. Does Obama smoke?
    I don’t care.
    Matt Donnelly

  12. jo boehm

    I think they are making room to sell marijuana.

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