The drugstore chain CVS has stopped selling tobacco products a month sooner than planned as the company moves to position itself as a provider of health services, as well as of prescription drugs and other products.
The chain’s parent company, headquartered in Woonsocket, R.I., also said it is changing its corporate name to CVS Health from CVS Caremark Corp.
In February, CVS said it would stop selling cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, and pipe paraphernalia in its stores Oct. 1. But those products were cleared from the shelves over the Labor Day weekend. In their place: smoking-cessation products, such as nicotine patches, gums, and inhalers, along with antismoking signs.
The chain will continue not to sell electronic cigarettes because the FDA has not issued guidance on the safety of the devices, which emit a nicotine-infused vapor, said Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman.
Many Massachusetts residents might not notice the change, however. Boston banned cigarette sales at pharmacies in 2009, and many other Massachusetts cities and towns followed suit. Today, 58 percent of the Commonwealth’s residents live in a municipality where tobacco sales at pharmacies are banned, said Tami Gouveia, executive director of Tobacco-Free Mass, a coalition of local health organizations.
“We are really excited, and we completely applaud [CVS’s] effort,” Gouveia said. “They really have turned this corner where they’re demonstrating a commitment to community health.”
CVS said in February that it would forgo $2 billion in annual sales, or less than 2 percent of total revenue, by removing tobacco products from its shelves. About 350 of the chain’s 7,700 locations are in Massachusetts, according its website.
Pharmacies account for nearly one in 10 tobacco retailers in Massachusetts, according to Vaughan Rees, who coauthored a 2013 study of tobacco sales. Rees said he hoped more drugstores would follow CVS’s example.
“Pharmacies were starting to capture a larger share of tobacco market sales,” said Rees, interim director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard. “From a public health point of view, this was a worrying trend.”
Based on an analysis of cigarette sales in Boston and San Francisco after those cities banned tobacco sales at pharmacies, CVS said tobacco sales could drop as much as 13 percent if competitors followed suit. That analysis, however, was based on small samples and did not take into account price increases or other policy changes.
Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University who studies tobacco control, said CVS’s policy probably will not stop people from buying tobacco, but could make them think twice. He added that rivals like Walgreen’s and Rite Aid could face increased pressure to stop selling tobacco.
Replacing a wall of cigarettes with smoking-cessation therapies eliminates a “clear conflict” in consumers’ minds, said Lisa Kroon, chair of the clinical pharmacy department at the University of California San Francisco.
“We are health care providers,” she said. “We should not be helping treat conditions caused by cigarettes and then sell them at another location in the pharmacy. It makes no sense.”
Jack Newsham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Lisa Kroon’s department. She is chair of the clinical pharmacy department at the University of California San Francisco.