It appears that large drugstore chains can make significant contributions to efforts that discourage smoking, which is attributed to nearly half a million deaths in the U.S. per year.
CVS, one of the country's biggest pharmacies, said that a year after it decided to stop selling cigarettes, cigarette sales across all retailers have dropped in 13 states where it has sizable market share.
In data released on Thursday, the company said that its decision to stop selling tobacco products has led to a drop in U.S. tobacco sales reducing purchases by 95 million packs in all retailers.
The number is equivalent to the average smoker in 13 states namely Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania buying five fewer packs of cigarettes over the eight month-period after the company pulled off cigarettes from its shelves.
CVS executives said that the data, which looked at sales of tobacco products from September 2014 to April this year and included bar code data, interviews, related examination of sales of tobacco products at gas stations, grocers, convenience stores and rival drug stores after Sept. 3 when CVS stopped selling tobacco products nationwide, defied the predictions of those who claimed Americans would still find cigarettes elsewhere should CVS cease selling tobacco products.
"Those who were saying it won't make any difference because those people will get cigarettes elsewhere were wrong," said CVS Health chief medical officer Troyen Brennan.
CVS's decision to stop tobacco sales was an attempt at improving its image as an all-around health care provider and experts initially wondered if the move would have impact on overall tobacco use.
With the positive results some anti-tobacco groups hailed as significant, other retailers were urged to follow CVS's lead as well.
"I think people would be surprised that a single store, even one as large as CVS, could have a direct and measurable effect on tobacco use in the community in which it has a significant presence," said Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew Myers, who said that his organization will be calling for other major retailers to follow CVS's lead.
Some, however, were skeptical that the company could claim the credit for the drop in sales given that the overall smoking rates in the U.S. have already been declining.
In the same week that CVS released its report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also announced that the smoking rate in the U.S. has dropped to 15 percent in the first quarter of 2015, a drop from a smoking rate of 16.8 percent last year.
Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr