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Drugstore Giant CVS to End Cigarette and Tobacco Sales

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CVS, the country's largest drugstore chain, announced Wednesday it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at all of its stores by October, including all 463 New York locations. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

From the president on down, there's praise all around for CVS pharmacies as it acts to remove all tobacco products from its shelves.

"CVS is putting the health of their customers before their profits, and that 's a very big step," said New York City Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Susan Kansagra. "It's coming 50 years after the surgeon general's report, so quite a time afterward, but nonetheless, I think it's an important step."

The announcement comes on the heels of the surgeon general's report last month that links smoking to a litany of illnesses, affecting nearly all organs of the body.

"If you stop smoking, you can really lower risk of developing cancer and heart disease dramatically," said Dr. Tara Narula, associate director of the Lenox Hill Hospital Cardiac Care Unit. "I think if our focus in this country is shifting toward prevention and cost-saving, it's the perfect point to attack."

The decision will cost CVS $2 billion annually, about 3 percent of its earnings.

This spring, the company will launch a smoking cessation campaign and will also be expanding its network of pharmacies with so-called "minute clinics."

In a phone conference with reporters Wednesday, CVS CEO Larry Merlo said that it dovetails with the Affordable Care Act, which calls for shifting ongoing care to community-based clinics away from a reliance on emergency room visits.

"Those relationships that are being established with hospital systems and physician groups, we came to the conclusion that the timing is right," Merlo said. "We refer to it as the retailization of health care."

Now, the pressure is on the rest of the industry. Will other pharmacy chains follow? That's what CVS wants, along with the larger public health community.

"I think this is a step in changing social norms in the right directions, and we really hope that other pharmacies consider doing the same thing," Kansagra said.

CVS plans to be tobacco-free by October 1.

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