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CVS stores, including 41 in NH, to stop selling tobacco

Staff Report
February 05. 2014 9:11PM
Matt Foran, right, answers questions about cigarettes, while a customer leaves with a 12 pack of beer at CVS on Elm Street in Manchester on Wednesday. (UNION LEADER)

Nathan White, a cashier clerk, waits on Erich Weller of Arizona, at CVS on Elm Street in Manchester on Wednesday. Union Leader
MANCHESTER - Matt Foran zipped into the CVS on Elm Street to buy a pack of Marlboro Lights and was surprised to hear the national chain will soon stop selling tobacco products.

'It is a drawing point. Honestly, I don't think I would ever come to CVS (for a different purchase),' Foran said Wednesday. Still, he said, 'I guess I can kind of see that.'
Foran, of Manchester, wonders if other pharmacies will follow suit.

CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its 7,600 locations — including 41 in New Hampshire — by Oct. 1, making it the first national pharmacy chain to do so. The move comes as the chain has been expanding its in-store health clinics.

Larry J. Merlo, president and chief executive officer, called it “the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The American Lung Association applauded the move.

“The Lung Association commends company leaders for their forward-thinking decision to prioritize the health and well-being of current and future customers and employees and for helping create a tobacco-free generation of youth,” Harold Wimmer, national president, said in a statement. “We urge more retailers to take note of CVS Caremark’s actions and join in efforts to help reduce access to tobacco and tobacco use, and eliminate tobacco-caused deaths and disease.”

Dan Fortin, president and CEO of Breathe New Hampshire, believes others retailers will one day do the same. “When you look at the health consequences of tobacco use, and examine the economic impact to all of us, organizations can no longer ignore the problem,” Fortin said.

A spokesman for Walgreen Co. told Reuters that the pharmacy chain would continue to evaluate the products its customers want.

Last year, CVS announced it would expand to six in-store clinics in New Hampshire by early 2014. The clinics, operating under the MinuteClinic brand, are staffed by nurse practitioners. CVS previously had the clinics at locations in Concord and West Lebanon.

In New Hampshire, an estimated 1,700 adults who smoke die each year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In its most-recent data, the campaign pegged the smoking rate among high school students in the state at 18.1 percent, or 13,500. Another 1,200 residents under 18 become new daily smokers each year, based on the studies.

Tobacco and tobacco use prevention are part of the policy debate every legislative session in New Hampshire. The state projects tobacco sales to generate $116.9 million in tobacco tax revenues in fiscal year 2014. State Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, co-sponsored a bill last year to try to raise the tobacco tax. The bill died in the Senate. Rosenwald, a former chairwoman of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, was pleased to hear that a major pharmacy like CVS would take such a step. It sends the wrong message for a pharmacy to sell cigarettes, she said.

Rosenwald thinks CVS may also be trying to get ahead of consumer trends. Instead of the stacks of cigarette packs and cartons behind the CVS counters, and in place of the advertisements for Marlboro at $6.06 per pack and the special Camel carton price of $48.49, CVS may have its sights on a better profit margin.

“I think they’re smart to do that,” she said. “My guess is that it’s a good business decision.”

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