CVS Pharmacy’s Discontinuance of Tobacco Sales Led To Big Drop In Cigarette Purchases Interview with:

Jennifer M. Polinski PhD Senior Director, Enterprise Evaluation and Population Health Analytics, CVS Health CVS Caremark Corporation Harvard School of Public Health

Dr. Jennifer Polinski

Jennifer M. Polinski PhD
Senior Director, Enterprise Evaluation and Population Health Analytics, CVS Health
CVS Caremark Corporation
Harvard School of Public Health What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Nearly three years ago, we removed tobacco products from all CVS Pharmacy locations to help our customers on their path to better health. While there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that restricting access to tobacco helps reduce its use, we wanted to understand if our decision to remove tobacco had a nationwide impact on our customers’ purchasing behavior and presumed smoking habits.

In fact, our research findings, published in the American Journal of Public Health, show that CVS Health’s decision to remove tobacco from all CVS Pharmacy stores reduced the number of cigarette purchases across all other retail settings, including gas stations, convenience stores, and other outlets. In addition, customers who exclusively purchased cigarettes at CVS Pharmacy were 38 percent more likely to stop buying cigarettes, and those who purchased three or more packs of cigarettes per month at a CVS Pharmacy were more than twice as likely to stop buying cigarettes altogether. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This study shows the role the private sector and an individual retailer can play in restricting access to tobacco and improving public health. Since removing tobacco from our shelves, it’s clear that a significant number of customers simply stopped buying and hopefully smoking cigarettes altogether instead of just purchasing cigarettes elsewhere. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: As one of the nation’s largest health care companies, we believe that together with our peers and the larger retail sector, we can have an even greater impact on public health if they also choose to go tobacco-free. If more retailers followed suit, it would be interesting to study the collective impact on tobacco purchasing habits as well as smoking rates over time. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Since the removal of tobacco products from CVS Pharmacy locations in 2014, we have focused our efforts on helping people lead tobacco-free lives through our smoking cessation initiatives and resources and our focus on curbing and preventing youth tobacco use.

In fact, last year we launched Be The First, a five-year, $50 million initiative to help deliver the first tobacco-free generation. With support and funding through CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation, Be The First supports comprehensive education, advocacy, tobacco control and healthy behavior programming delivered in concert with a group of national partner organizations.

Since launching Be The First, we have reached nearly 5 million young people with anti-tobacco education and healthy behavior programming, as well as helped 20 colleges and universities begin the process of advocating for, implementing and adopting a 100% tobacco-free campus policy. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Am J Public Health. 2017 Feb 16:e1-e7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303612. [Epub ahead of print]
Impact of CVS Pharmacy’s Discontinuance of Tobacco Sales on Cigarette Purchasing (2012-2014).
Polinski JM1, Howell B1, Gagnon MA1, Kymes SM1, Brennan TA1, Shrank WH1.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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