Despite Lost Revenue, CVS Exec Says Snuffing Out Cigs a 'Good Strategic Decision’

Andy Sussman, executive vice president and associate chief medical officer of CVS Health, said the sale of tobacco was a $2 billion annual business for the pharmacy chain before it pulled cigarettes from the shelves.

Despite the lost revenue, Sussman said it was a “good strategic decision.”

PJ Media asked Sussman if he thinks other companies should follow suit.

“If you think about our company, CVS Health, as an enterprise we are increasingly on the front lines of healthcare. And the front lines of healthcare includes the pharmacy and at the enterprise level, both in terms of the message we send to our customers, our affiliates, our health systems we work with. Our clients are eager to see us eliminate tobacco, so we think about it from an enterprise perspective as we get deeper and deeper into healthcare,” Sussman said during a public health discussion hosted by Family Medicine for America’s Health.

“We think overall this is a good strategic decision for us for the long run. I would say every company has to decide what role it wants to play in the healthcare system of the future – that’s for them to decide but clearly this is our direction, which is that tobacco products are harmful. We have known that and we have now taken that step of eliminating those tobacco products and helping people to stop smoking. On the front lines of healthcare, we don’t think there’s an appropriate spot for tobacco,” he added.

During the event, the organization announced that its Health is Primary campaign has partnered with CVS Health to improve the coordination of medical care between primary care providers, pharmacies and health clinics such as CVS pharmacy’s walk-in MinuteClinics.

Sussman said CVS continues to grow in the aftermath of the decision to stop selling cigarettes in February 2014. CVS announced all of its locations were tobacco-free in September 2014.

“We are a bigger company today than we were at the time of this announcement because we understand to be a healthcare provider tobacco is just inconsistent with that message. It sends the wrong message to patients about how safe it is if it is sold in a pharmacy,” he said.

Sussman was asked how much revenue CVS has lost after deciding to stop selling cigarettes.

“Tobacco revenue was a $2 billion business for CVS, but if you again think about our enterprise we think this is an important strategic investment in our future as being a healthcare provider. And we’ve certainly heard that from our supporters in terms of clients, patients, affiliates and many others,” he said.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who moderated the discussion, said marketing for tobacco products remains a problem.

“It’s over a million an hour – $27 million a day is spent on marketing and that marketing is particularly targeted to the 18- to 26-year-old – 20 percent of the movies made for children have tobacco images in them like Shrek, Avatar, 101 Dalmatians, and all of that is to make it OK to see the images there,” she said.