The decision last week by CVS Caremark to stop selling tobacco products effective October 1, 2014, in over 7,600 pharmacies across the United States, is a milestone for the tobacco control movement. CVS President and CEO, Larry J. Merlo, stated that this decision to end tobacco sales “is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health.” This decision is said to cost CVS up to $2 billion in tobacco-related sales per year, but will likely save tens of thousands of people from developing tobacco-related diseases and premature death.
President Barack Obama praised CVS’ decision, saying it will save lives and reduce health care costs. He thanked CEO Merlo, stating that this “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.” However, what has received less attention is that President Obama also deserves substantial credit for this landmark decision. If it were not for the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 and the tobacco screening and cessation services covered under the ACA, CVS most likely would not have been in a position to make this landmark health-conscious decision.
In general, the ACA mandates screening of all patients for tobacco use and requires that tobacco cessation counseling and medication be offered to patients across all private and public health insurance plans.Although the requirements for reimbursement of these services is not clearly or consistently defined across health insurance plans, CVS was able to make the financial calculation that they will be able to make up for the $2 billion loss, and possibly even exceed it, through offering these cessation services and products in health clinics expanding within their pharmacies. CVS announced that they will launch a national smoking cessation program this spring, which will surely include offering a range of cessation services.
This is not to detract from the positive actions CVS has taken. By making this bold move, they are now leaders of the pack, and they will indeed save many thousands of lives by this action. We applaud their decision and say, “SHOP CVS!” We can all show our support for the decision by buying their healthy products. We at Danya call for a SHOP CVS campaign to support their decision and hope that others will follow their example. Let’s also give due credit to the Obama Administration for having the foresight to mandate tobacco screening and cessation coverage to promote health, save lives, and ultimately reduce health care costs from tobacco-related diseases.
The Danya Institute will be hosting the National Conference on Tobacco and Behavioral Health (NCTBH): Interventions, Integration and Insurance on May 19–20, 2014, at the North Bethesda Maryland Marriott, which will provide the tobacco control field an update on tobacco cessation and the ACA (http://www.danyainstitute.org/national-conference-on-tobacco-and-behavioral-health-2014/). Mark your calendars!
By Jeff Hoffman, Ph.D.
CEO, Danya International, Inc.