WASHINGTON — CVS Caremark, the nation's second-largest drug store chain, plans to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 retail stores by Oct. 1.
That is a landmark decision that would make it the first national pharmacy company to cease tobacco sales.
The move, which the company announced this morning, comes after years of pressure from public health advocates and medical providers, who have urged retailers to make tobacco products and advertising less available, particularly to children and teenagers.
It also marks a major turn for one of the country's biggest health care companies, which said it is giving up about $2 billion in annual sales, or about 1.6 percent of the company's 2012 revenues.
CVS, which is second only to Walgreen Co. in retail locations, has been steadily increasing its business providing medical care through its pharmacists and a growing number of urgent care clinics at its retail locations.
“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care,” Larry J. Merlo, the president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
CVS, based in Woonsocket, R.I., also pledged to launch what it called a “national smoking cessation program” this spring.
Nationwide, less than 5 percent of cigarette sales occurred in pharmacies in 2009, according to a study by the Center for Global Tobacco Control.