The Tobacco Free York County Coalition applauded CVS/Caremark’s announcement Wednesday that its stores will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. But coalition leaders said the move likely would not reduce the number of local smokers.
Young smokers are the only market segment that might be affected, said Drs. Alan Nichols and David Keely, leaders of the coalition, because their decision to smoke is price sensitive.
“People will go elsewhere to buy cigarettes, pay more for them,” Nichols said.
CVS, the second-largest drug store chain in the country, will end tobacco sales by October. The move is expected to cost the company about $2 billion in overall sales and reduce the projected earnings per share of $4.36 by 6 to 9 cents. In 2012, the latest figures available, CVS’ overall sales were $123 billion.
Nichols said the move is one more example of CVS evolving from a drug store into a doctor’s office.
“You should not sell cigarettes if you are a doctors’ office,” he said.
Rakesh Patel, owner of the Family Care and Specialty Pharmacy on Celanese Road, said he made the decision not to sell cigarettes when he opened several years ago because, “We are medicine.”
Patel said he didn’t see how he could counsel someone who had emphysema and then sell cigarettes.
“It’s impossible to tell people to quit smoking and not walk the talk,” he said.
Craig Burridge, chief executive officer of the S.C. Pharmacy Association, said voluntary efforts to have drug stores stop selling cigarettes have been ongoing for more than 30 years.
Burridge helped lead the effort in New York where he served as the executive director of the Pharmacist Society State of New York.
He said they had some success, but the decision whether to sell cigarettes is largely driven by market demographics. Drug stores in the city and in rural areas are more likely to sell cigarettes because they are the area’s grocery store as well as pharmacy.
Keely said if South Carolina wants to reduce the number of smokers it needs to again increase the tax on cigarettes. In 2010, the state increased the tax on a price of cigarettes from 7 cents to 57 cents. The national, per-pack state tax average is $1.50 per pack. South Carolina cigarette tax recently earned an “F” grade from the America Lung Association. The state also received failing grades for tobacco prevention, smoke free air and cessation coverage.
Several shoppers Wednesday at the CVS store on Cherry Road supported the company’s decision. Phil Hinely of Gastonia, N.C., called CVS’ actions a “gutsy move” but wondered if the company has the ability to sustain its decision.
According to industry statistics, three-quarters of cigarette sales are at gas stations and convenience stores.
Chris Corn, owner of the Little Giant Food Stores, said the CVS move should bring him and other convenience stores more business. He said one-third of his sales come from tobacco products, which include E-cigarettes, cigarettes and moist tobacco. He said his stores won’t change their sales policy.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066