Second largest US pharmacy chain no longer sells tobacco

Second largest US pharmacy chain no longer sells tobacco

The second largest American pharmacy chain, CVS Caremark, will no longer sell cigarettes or tobacco from 1 October onwards. Another blow for the tobacco industry, analysts wonder if a voluntary or even forced ban is possible in Belgium as well.

2 billion dollars in turnover up in smoke

CVS is the second largest (para)-pharmaceutical chain in the United States (after Walgreens) with a yearly 90 billion euro turnover, 1.5 billion coming from tobacco products. That is a huge sum of money going up in smoke, but the company says it cannot have the cake and eat it too: it sells products that harm, while it also sells medication to cure or benefit people’s health.


“Stopping the sale of cigarettes and tobacco will make a significant difference in reducing the chronic illnesses associated with tobacco use”, said Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan. “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health," agreed CEO Larry J. Merlo, announcing that even e-cigarettes will no longer be available.


“Main cause of death”

290 billion cigarettes are sold on a yearly basis in the United States, creating a turnover of 75 billion euro. According to the US Department of Health in Washington, the yearly death toll is at 480,000 because of coronary diseases, lung cancer and strokes – all the effect of smoking. The medical cost is equally staggering: nearly 215 billion euro.


CVS stated "we can no longer live with the biggest cause of death in this country”, pleasing president Obama greatly: he called it a “powerful example. Today’s decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs.” Competitor Walgreens, the largest with 8,200 stores across America, said it “will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want.”


Will tobacco sales stop here as well?

The plan is being tracked with suspicion in Europe: despite the large differences with America, the question has been asked here as well whether chains and producers have to play their sociological role to maintain or improve their customers’ health. Cigarette producers already face huge claims, with cafes receiving fines if they allow smoking... Is tackling cigarette sales the next step?


The legal age to buy tobacco products in the Netherlands has been upped from 16 to 18 years, from the start of 2014. One Dutch citizen in two wants a complete ban on cigarette sales in supermarkets and to move them completely to speciality stores, according to a recent enquiry. Plenty of Dutch retailers have complained about lower sales because of the new law, losing customers to stores across the border and experiencing increased hostility towards staff.


A partial or complete ban could also heavily impact Belgium: newspaper shops are already in danger of disappearing, but the large supermarkets could also be hit very hard. That would especially be the case if there is no substitute for these costly impulse purchases. It remains to be seen whether Europe will follow the American example...