CVS Claims That Booting Tobacco From Stores Has Made Us All Healthier

Today marks the one-year anniversary of CVS removing tobacco products from its pharmacies. How’s that working out for them? The company reports that sales of non-drug items were down slightly in the last year, but tobacco isn’t a very profitable item. Parent company CVS Health is celebrating the anniversary with a study that it says shows that its decision decreased total cigarette sales nationwide.

How do they know that the decrease didn’t coincide with people switching to another tobacco product, or wasn’t just part of the overall national trend of people smoking less? They used states that have no CVS stores at all as a control group, and also noted that cigarette sales decreased more in states that happen to have more CVS stores. If you want to check out their methodology, they described where those numbers came from in a short research paper.

They looked at two figures to determine how many people in a given area were quitting: cigarette pack sales and nicotine patch sales. Even if someone returned to smoking, using one of CVS’s promotional coupons to buy some nicotine patches is at least a proxy for trying to quit. Where CVS has more than 15% of the drugstore market share, they point out, cigarette sales went down 1%.

Not everyone is buying CVS’s narrative of itself as a national health savior, of course.Lawmakers were already encouraging stores with pharmacies to quit selling tobacco products because of the mixed health message that it sends, even if the cigs are behind one counter and the drugs behind another.

“CVS only sold a very small percentage of the nation’s cigarettes to start with,” a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research told USA Today, “and financial analysts have said the impact of CVS’ move wouldn’t have a major impact on smoking rates.” Discovering that one store doesn’t carry cigarettes isn’t enough to induce someone to quit when plenty of stores have them available.

We Quit Tobacco, Here’s What Happened Next [CVS Health]
A year later, CVS says stopping tobacco sales made a big difference [USA Today]