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CVS Study: Overall Cigarette Purchases Decline

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Three years after announcing it would exit the tobacco retail business, a new study by CVS Health indicates it is making strides in the overall reduction in cigarette use.

Findings from the CVS Health Research Institute indicated the company's decision to remove tobacco from all CVS Pharmacy stores reduced the number of cigarette purchases across all retail settings with an even greater impact on those who bought cigarettes exclusively at CVS Pharmacy.

The new insights confirm and expand upon initial impact data released on the one-year anniversary of the company's removal of cigarettes and other tobacco products from its retail stores, according to CVS.

The study was published online Feb. 16 in the American Journal of Public Health.

"When we removed tobacco from our shelves, a significant number of our customers simply stopped buying — and hopefully smoking — cigarettes altogether instead of just altering their cigarette purchasing habits," said Troyen A. Brennan, chief medical officer of CVS Health. 

"This research proves that our decision had a powerful public health impact by disrupting access to cigarettes and helping more of our customers on their path to better health," added Brennan, author of the study.

In February 2014, CVS revealed it would stop selling tobacco products by Oct. 1 of that year, as CSNews Online previously reported. The retailer was able to exit the category one month early.

According to CVS, the study assessed the impact of its discontinuation of tobacco sales by analyzing data from a nationally representative survey of consumers' cigarette purchasing behavior at drug, food, big box, dollar, convenience and gas station retailers prior to and one year following the company's decision. 

While CVS' decision reduced cigarette purchases across all retail settings, those who purchased cigarettes exclusively at CVS Pharmacy were 38 percent more likely to stop buying cigarettes, and those who purchased three or more packs per month were more than twice as likely to stop buying cigarettes altogether, the research found.

"CVS Health's decision to end tobacco sales has had a substantial and measurable impact on improving our nation's health," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "These newly published results make it increasingly untenable for responsible retailers — especially those that provide health care services — to continue selling tobacco products."

Following CVS Health's decision to exit tobacco in 2014, the company has extended its commitment to helping people lead tobacco-free lives through increased smoking cessation resources and a focus on youth tobacco use and prevention. 

In 2016, CVS Health launched Be The First, a five-year, $50-million initiative to help deliver the first tobacco-free generation, as CSNews Online previously reported.

"Tobacco use, especially among our youth, is one of the most pressing public health issues that we face today," said Eileen Howard Boone, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS Health, and president of the CVS Health Foundation. 

"While smoking rates among children and adults have declined over the past decade, approximately 36.5 million adults still smoke and 3,200 people under age 18 smoke their first cigarette every day. Reducing tobacco use continues to be a public health priority, which we are committed to addressing," Boone said.

Woonsocket-based CVS Health has more than 9,700 retail locations and more than 1,100 walk-in medical clinics.

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