By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Nine months from now, Jonah Watson, of Sunbury, and millions of other smokers like him won’t be able to buy their favorite cigarettes from CVS stores.
CVS, the nation’s second largest drugstore chain, on Wednesday announced that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy stores across the U.S. by Oct. 1, making it the first national pharmacy chain to take this step in support of the health and well-being of its customers.
There are 13 CVS stores in the Valley: one each in Catawissa, Danville, Middleburg, Mifflinburg, Millersburg, Milton, Northumberland, Selinsgrove, Shamokin, Sunbury and Watsontown, and two in Lewisburg.
Two CVS store managers at different locations declined to comment on the corporate decision.
Meanwhile, customer Watson shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’ll find them somewhere else. It’s just that this store was so convenient to where I live.”
Calls to corporate headquarters in Woonsocket, R.I., were not returned, but CVS President Larry J. Merlo did put out a statement.
“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,” Melo said. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes,” he continued, “reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners. The significant action we’re taking by removing tobacco products from our retail shelves further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients and health care providers and better positions us for continued growth in the evolving health care marketplace.”
Smoking is the leading cause of premature disease and death in the U.S. with more than 480,000 deaths annually, Merlo noted. While the prevalence of cigarette smoking has decreased from approximately 42 percent of adults in 1965 to 18 percent today, the rate of reduction in smoking prevalence has stalled in the past decade.
In addition to cigarettes, the company will be phasing out cigars and chewing tobacco by Oct. 1.
The move is the latest evidence of a big push in the drugstore industry that has been taking place over several years.
Major drugstore chains have been adding in-store clinics and expanding their health care offerings. Their pharmacists deliver flu shots and other immunizations, and their clinics now manage chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes and treat relatively minor problems like sinus infections.
Among other things, they’re preparing for increased health care demand.
That’s in part due to an aging U.S. population that will need more care in future years. It’s also the result of the millions of people expected to gain health insurance under the health care overhaul.
CVS also plans to expand its smoking cessation efforts.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” Merlo said.
The company’s tobacco plan drew praise from President Barack Obama, who said the decision will help his administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as lower health care costs.
Tobacco is responsible for about 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration, which gained the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009.
n The Associated Press contributed to this report.