CVS Pharmacy, the nation’s second largest pharmacy and 13th largest company in the world, threw down the gauntlet today to other pharmacy chains and vowed to stop selling tobacco products by Oct. 1, 2014.
As a retail pharmacy division of CVS Caremark, CVS Pharmacy is a drug store chain, a pharmacy benefit manager, and a leading retail health care provider. They have the "MinuteClinic" retail health clinics and can provide assistance with blood pressure and blood sugar management. In this sense, eliminating the sale of cigarettes is akin to removing cigarettes from the gift shops of hospitals and medical clinics. The major difference is that hospitals and clinics carried cigarettes as convenience items; for a company such as CVS Pharmacy, tobacco provided more than $1.5 billion in annual sales.
This is no small gamble. But it’s one that will hopefully pay off.
First of all, it’s the right thing to do in the interest of public health; 480,000 Americans still die of tobacco-related diseases annually. Second, the media attention and accolades received from President Obama, the American Medical Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids will, however short lived, bring recognition to the brand. CVS Pharmacy will now be identified as being concerned not only about patients who fill their prescriptions there, but also about the health and well-being of the communities in which the pharmacies operate. If another pharmacy chain follows suit, great, but CVS was first.
This attention will also garner attention to the other health care services that the retail chain provides, and it will increase the likelihood that hospitals, clinics, and ACOs will partner with the company.
Retail pharmacies will undoubtedly be a significant player in the delivery of health care, and medical organizations should be partnering with these companies. Unlike large medical institutions, which may be slow to action, a company like CVS could be more nimble and able to implement models of care in many of its more than 7,600 stores.
This could have a true population impact – arguably, more of an impact than training more physicians to provide care using traditional models. CVS’s announcement demonstrates that they are a willing and able partner in improving public health and engaging in health care delivery.
Dr. Ebbert is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. He disclosed having financial relationships with Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of tobacco-dependence treatments.