Did CVS Single-Handedly Reduce Tobacco Related Purchases Amongst Consumers?


Three years ago, CVS made the decision to stop selling all tobacco products – a move that gained national attention and acclaim. But perhaps more shocking than the decision itself is the unexpected results. The move has seemingly contributed to a drop in tobacco purchases for all retailers.

In the years following, the national retail chain conducted a study which analyzed consumers’ cigarette purchasing behavior the year before and after the company’s decision. This data was compiled from a nationally representative survey of consumers’ who shopped at drug, food, big box, dollar, convenience stores and gas stations. Their findings were published 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 Dr. Troyen Brennan, CVS Health chief medical officer, in a statement. “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.”

In fact, not only did the decision reduce tobacco purchases across all retail settings, after dropping cigarettes from their stores, CVS customers were 38 percent more likely to stop buying cigarettes. Those who purchased three or more packs per month were more than twice as likely to stop buying cigarettes altogether.

“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. We also urge parents and other consumers concerned about health to patronize retailers that don’t sell tobacco products, such as those on our website, www.ShopTobaccoFree.org.”

Although CVS’ tobacco-related sales dropped $2 billion USD, all is not lost. As it turns out, the growing market for health and wellness related goods and services within big box retailers has taken up space where a great big gap in sales could have otherwise been. Between its growing pharmacy benefit management division, medical services businesses, and new business from the Affordable Care Act, CVS has actually seen a rise in sales over the past three years.

And that’s not all: the company has remained strident in their commitment to helping their consumers live a tobacco-free life. In 2016, CVS Health launched their Be The First program – a five-year, $50 million USD initiative in conjunction with the support and funding of CVS Health, the CVS Health Foundation and a number of national partner organizations, which provides comprehensive education, advocacy, tobacco control, and healthy behavior programming.

The study concludes with this: “Private retailers can play a meaningful role in restricting access to tobacco. This highlights one approach to reducing tobacco use and improving public health.” So far, none of CVS competitors have chosen to follow in the retailer’s footsteps.

Dayana Cadet

Dayana Cadet

Dayana’s love affair with writing spans all manner of content. As the Content Specialist at Hubba, connecting people to the things they love is where she thrives.

Follow her at @D_isforDayana
Dayana Cadet