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CVS move not a big surprise for customers

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HANCOCK COUNTY — County residents’ reaction to CVS Caremark Corp.’s decision to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products nationwide by Oct. 1 was a mixed bag Wednesday, ranging from happiness to aggravation to indifference.

Brandee Bastin, Tobacco Initiative coordinator for Hancock County Tobacco Free Coalition, said word of the announcement, which affects CVS stores in Greenfield, McCordsville and New Palestine, lit up her phone Wednesday morning.

“I just think it’s a great step and very admirable that they have chosen health over profits,” Bastin said.

The company, which tallied more than $123 billion in total revenue for 2012, said it will lose about $2 billion annually by phasing out the sale of tobacco products. But the company says the move will not affect its 2014 earnings forecast.

CVS takes in about $1.5 billion yearly in tobacco sales, but it also anticipates increased lost sales from smokers who purchase additional items when visiting the stores.

New Palestine resident Matt Major, who often stops by the CVS there to pick up a pack or two of cigarettes, said the company’s decision will be a nuisance.

“Well, it’s going to be a big inconvenience for me because I am a smoker, so I don’t like it,” Major said. “But I know smoking isn’t good for you, so it’s probably a good thing.”

Kristina Barr, another New Palestine customer, said the move seemed consistent with the state’s ban on smoking in public places and other trends aimed at curtailing smoking.

“I guess it will be inconvenient for smokers, but I am OK with it,” she said.

For others, news of the discontinued sales seemed not to make much difference.

Mike Lockart of Greenfield said he purchases his medicines and other assorted items at Greenfield’s CVS store, but the company’s decision will not have a major impact on his shopping habits when it comes to buying cigarettes.

“I’ll just go somewhere else to buy them,” he said.

CVS Caremark Corp., the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, between retail leader Walgreen Co. and third-ranked Rite-Aid Corp., announced Wednesday morning it will begin phasing out tobacco products and stop sales cold turkey at all of its 7,600 U.S. stores by Oct. 1. CVS said it would shift its focus to providing more health care services.

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/Pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” said company President and CEO Larry J. Merlo in a news release. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The move is the latest evidence of a big push in the drugstore industry that has been taking place over several years. Major drugstore chains have been adding in-store clinics and expanding their health care offerings. Their pharmacists deliver flu shots and other immunizations, and their clinics now manage chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes and treat relatively minor problems like sinus infections.

CVS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan said the presence of tobacco in its stores has made for some awkward conversations.

“One of the first questions they ask us is, ‘Well, if you’re going to be part of the health care system, how can you continue to sell tobacco products?’” he said. “There’s really no good answer to that at all.”

Brennan’s observations are not lost on Bastin, who said it was “ironic” that drugstores sell cigarettes and other tobacco products while simultaneously offering nicotine patches, gum and lozenges to help people quit smoking.

“Pharmacists are very involved in smoking cessation,” Bastin said. “It’s an awareness that is raised in pharmacy school.”

CVS said it plans to expand its smoking cessation efforts to include training pharmacists to counsel people on how to quit.

Store officials in Hancock County said they could not comment on the company’s decision, but Greenfield CVS customer Arthur Burkes said the call to end tobacco sales was something he could live with as he loaded bags of groceries and other items into the bed of his pickup truck Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m a smoker, but if that’s their decision, then more power to them,” Burkes said.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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