CVS, the huge pharmacy chain, has taken a bold step by giving up cigarettes.
Like anyone kicking a bad habit, CVS Caremark Corp. had a personal reason for doing so. And like anyone who quits smoking, the company made its decision based on health.
CVS operates 800 medical clinics in its pharmacies — more than any other drugstore chain — and it wants to increase that number to 1,500 in three years. Because the company is expanding its mission as a traditional retail outlet to include being a health-care provider, selling proven carcinogens posed a dilemma.
CVS will stop selling tobacco products by October. The decision won’t cripple the tobacco industry; drugstores nationwide, including CVS outlets, account for only 3.6 percent of cigarette sales. The big sellers by far are gas stations, with a 47.5 percent market share.
Some skeptics suggest that CVS has more to gain in public relations than it will lose by taking tobacco products off the shelves of its stores. But let’s give credit where it is due.
CVS took the side of healthy habits; other drugstores could, and should, follow suit. Not long ago, restaurants and other businesses started banning indoor smoking, even before the law in many places required it.
A handful of communities, including San Francisco and Boston, already have laws that curtail the sale of tobacco at stores that include a pharmacy. But no one is suggesting that customers who have been purchasing tobacco at CVS won’t have ample options.
Still, there is evidence that reducing the convenience of buying tobacco lowers the likelihood that some customers — particularly young people — will pick up a habit that can kill. Here’s hoping that CVS is in the vanguard of the next big battle against the nation’s leading cause of preventable death.