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Longs Drugs snuffing out tobacco sales


Big Island Longs Drugs stores are among 7,600 CVS Caremark-owned pharmacy stores nationwide that will eliminate tobacco products from their inventory effective Oct. 1, the parent-company announced Wednesday.

According to a statement issued by the company’s president, the decision to eliminate tobacco from the stores’ shelves is business and health-related.

Larry Merlo, CVS Caremark president and CEO, said it was “the right thing to do.”

The sale of tobacco is “inconsistent” with the company’s purpose, which is “helping people on their path to better health,” according to a statement released by CVS.

The decision also comes as the company is looking to rebrand itself as a health care provider instead of a retail chain. The company is also looking to “align itself with public policy.”

CVS Caremark, which operates 10 Longs Drugs locations islandwide, is the largest provider of prescription drugs in the United States, and is the first national pharmacy chain to implement such a change.

The decision will cut annual revenue for the company by about $2 billion, which equals about 17 cents a share for the company.

Julian Lipsher, chief of chronic disease management and control for the Hawaii State Department of Health, said the state “applauds CVS Caremark/Longs decision to phase out tobacco products by Oct. 1.”

“As an important member of the health care system, in what was once the neighborhood drug store, now a large corporation, selling tobacco has no place in where we come to maintain our health,” he said. “There is really no good reason for an organization dedicated to good health to continue to sell tobacco.”

Lipsher anticipates other drug stores around the nation and in Hawaii will follow suit.

Walgreens, the largest U.S. drugstore chain, will “continue to evaluate” tobacco products while providing education and alternatives to help reduce demand, Jim Graham, a spokesman for the Deerfield, Ill.-based company, wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Lipsher said tobacco-related illness kills more than 450,000 people each year and more than 1,100 in Hawaii.

“It is the single most preventable cause of disease and death,” he added.

According to statistics provided by CVS Caremark, 16 million people already have at least one disease from smoking and nine in 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking.

President Obama applauded CVS’ move. “As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example,” he said in a separate statement. “(Wednesday’s) decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this article.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.