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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

CVS Supplies the Smoking Gun on Retail Tobacco Sales

Retail giant CVS – the country’s second-largest drugstore chain, behind Walgreens – pulled all tobacco products from its shelves on September 3.
Date last upated: October 3, 2014

CVS had announced the decision in February but decided make the move a month earlier than planned. The change is intended to strengthen its image as a health-promoting company, and will come at a cost of approximately $2 billion in lost sales per year.

CVS believes its decision will decrease smoking rates in the communities it serves. The company sponsored a recent study that found decisions by two cities, Boston and San Francisco, to ban the sale of cigarettes in stores with retail pharmacies led to 13 percent fewer cigarette purchasers among the households included in the study. In other words, some smokers didn’t just go elsewhere to buy cigarettes – they gave them up completely.

At least 480,000 Americans die each year from smoking cigarettes, about 1,300 every day. If pharmacies across the country quit selling tobacco and the findings from the study held true, this number could decrease by 25,000 to 60,000 deaths annually.

Cigarettes are also an economic problem for the United States. The CVS study estimates annual costs attributable to smoking at more than $289 billion when direct medical costs and the value of lost productivity are combined.

So what about smoking in Colorado? While we are often near the top of the “healthiest state” rankings, we have work to do regarding tobacco use. The 2013 Colorado Health Report Card listed Colorado’s smoking rate at 19.4 percent, making us 13th in the country for the lowest percentage of smokers. Utah ranks first at 11.5 percent. If Colorado could lower its smoking rate to equal Utah’s, nearly 263,000 fewer adults in our state would smoke. That’s about the size of Fort Collins and Westminster combined.

Major disparities exist in who smokes in Colorado. Some of the state’s highest rates of smoking are found in the low income, non-student young adult, and LGB populations:


We may be admired for our clean air and fit population, but the state Department of Revenue reported about 19.8 million packs of cigarettes were sold in Colorado during August 2014. Although millions of dollars from these sales will fund education and health programs through the Amendment 35 grant program, many in Colorado still hope to see tobacco use snuffed out.