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CVS Decision to Stop Tobacco Sales Reduced Cigarette Purchase

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, PhD
The company's study has found a 38% drop in cigarette purchase among shoppers who visit CVS stores.
In 2014, pharmacy giant and healthcare company CVS Health decided to stop selling tobacco products in its retail stores—a very significant decision that seems to have had the desired impact. A new study commissioned by the company, and published in the American Journal of Public Health, has found that there was a subsequent significant decline in population-level cigarette purchases.

The authors mined household purchasing data for the period between September 2014 and August 2015 for 3 groups:  
  • CVS-exclusive cigarette purchasers
  • CVS+ (CVS and other retailers)
  • Other exclusive (only non-CVS retailers)
Using point-of-sale purchase data from 13 states, the authors compared cigarette purchases for the period before CVS implemented its policy (January 2012 to August 2014) and for the period right after (September 2014 to April 2015). In the chosen states, CVS had a market share of at least 15%; 3 control states used in the analyses had no CVS stores.

The results showed that shoppers at CVS stores were 38% more likely (95% CI, 1.06-1.81) to stop buying cigarettes, compared with shoppers in the comparator groups. Further, the 13 states saw a mean reduction of 0.14 packs per month for a single smoker (95% CI, 0.06-0.22).

Troyen A. Brennan, MD, chief medical officer of CVS Health, highlighted the public health impact of the CVS decision made in 2014. “When we removed tobacco from our shelves, a significant number of our customers simply stopped buying and hopefully smoking cigarettes altogether instead of just altering their cigarette purchasing habits,” he said in a statement. Brennan is an author on the study.

None of the company’s rivals—Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, or Walgreens—have followed in CVS’ footsteps.

Meanwhile, CVS continues to invest further in its public policy efforts with respect to tobacco use. The company's Be The First initiative, announced in March 2016, is a 5-year $50 million program that aims to help deliver the nation’s first tobacco-free generation. In addition to its focus on supporting community-based cessation programs for adult smokers who expose children to tobacco use in the home and other public venues that permit smoking, Be The First aims to prevent youth, young adults, and elementary school children from being future smokers.

CVS has also partnered with the American Cancer Society to grant $3.6 million to college campuses throughout the country in an effort to advocate, adopt, and implement a tobacco-free campus policy.  

Reference

Polinski JM, Howell B, Gagno MA, et al. Impact of CVS Pharmacy’s discontinuance of tobacco sales on cigarette purchasing (2012–2014) [published online February 16, 2017]. Am J Public Health. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303612.

 
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