U.S. pharmacy chain CVS, which announced back in February it would cease selling tobacco products in October, has announced it is officially doing so -- a month early.

Saying the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products conflicted with the primary mission of healthcare, the chain stopped sales on Sept. 3.

To emphasize its focus on health care, the company announced it would change its corporate name to become CVS Health, although its retail outlets will still retain the CVS/Pharmacy name.

CVS is the first major pharmacy chain to respond to a March 2010 call from the American Pharmacists Association to halt the sales of tobacco; several smaller, independent drug store chains have already done so.

Its annual sales of tobacco had averaged around $2 billion of its annual $125 billion sales, CVS has said.

CVS has been involved in efforts to transition into additional areas of healthcare beyond just running pharmacies; it has opened around 800 MinuteClinic facilities offering medical diagnostic services.

Selling cigarettes didn't mesh well with those efforts, says CVS Executive Vice President Helena Foulkes.

"As we've been working on doing a better job integrating health plans and doctors' offices and hospital systems, we would go in and give these great presentations," she says. "And almost at the end of every presentation, someone would raise his hand and say, "So why do you still sell cigarettes?'"

In addition to the sales ban, the company is launching a quit-smoking educational campaign and will offer medications to aid in curbing smokers' tobacco cravings.

Health advocates say while other chains like Rite-Aid and Walgreen's continue to sell tobacco, the CVS move will have little immediate effect, but lauded the chains' decision.

"Every little bit helps because they are such a large chain," says Ellen Hahn of the University of Kentucky's Tobacco Policy Research Program. "If every pharmacy would follow suit, that would be best. But this sends a clear message that pharmacies should not be selling tobacco."

Not everyone agrees; Audrey Silk, found of a smoker's rights group in New York, says she thinks CVS is giving in to pressure from an antismoking "crusade."

Pharmacies sell a lot more than just medicines, she says, "they have turned into grocery stores. They sell candy. They sell beer. CVS Health? Its a perception war... Tobacco is legal."

"They're engaging in public coercion by not selling cigarettes," she says.

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