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CVS: Taking Tobacco From Stores Prompted Quit Attempts; Sales of Cigarettes Dropped

Mary K. Caffrey
Data in study show removal of tobacco from stores led to surge in purchase of nicotine patches.
CVS Health's decision a year ago to stop selling tobacco products was associated with a 1% drop in cigarette sales, according to a study by the company’s Health Research Institute.

CVS claims its decision resulted in an average reduction of 0.14 cigarette packs per smoker each month since the end of tobacco sales in its stores. In states where CVS has enough market share for the policy to make a difference, the average smoker bought 5 fewer packs of cigarettes.

The company paired its removal of tobacco products with a campaign to help smokers quit, which included counseling, a dedicated quit line, and nicotine replacement products. Compared with data from a control group of states with no CVS stores, the end of tobacco sales was associated with a 4% jump in purchases of nicotine patches, which the company interpreted as an attempt to quit. “This surge in nicotine patch purchases immediately following the tobacco sales removal decreased to preremoval levels over the subsequent months,” the authors wrote in the study.

To conduct the study, CVS Health analyzed cigarette pack and nicotine patch sales in 25 states where it has at least 15% market share, using data from 32 months before the end of tobacco sales and for 8 months after tobacco was removed. CVS determined the number of smokers in each state using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. It also took into account seasonal patterns of attempts to quit, such as the increase that occurs each year on New Year’s Day.

The analysis was published September 4, 2015, almost a year to the day that tobacco sales ended on September 3, 2014. It examined the public health effects of the decision to pull all tobacco products from its retail stores as CVS Health positioned itself more broadly as a healthcare delivery provider.

It’s a strategy that appears to be paying off. In August the company reported rising earnings despite the loss of revenue from tobacco purchases and other items that smokers may buy while in the retail stores. This was offset by earnings from CVS Health’s pharmacy benefits management division.

 “This evidence indicates that CVS Health’s decision to stop selling tobacco and to implement a robust smoking cessation program had a significant, nationwide impact on the public’s health,” wrote the authors, Jennifer M. Polinski ScD, MPH, Benjamin Howell, PhD, MPP, Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan, MD, JD, MPH, and Chief Scientific Officer William H. Shrank, MD, MSHS.

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the world. Smoking-related illnesses kill more than 393,000 Americans each year. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, which claims more lives than any other form of cancer.

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