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US drugstore giant CVS to remove cigarettes from store shelves

The second largest US drugstore chain, CVS, announced Wednesday it will stop selling cigarettes by the end of the year, a decision President Barack Obama hailed as a "powerful example."

WASHINGTON: The second largest US drugstore chain, CVS, announced Wednesday it will stop selling cigarettes by the end of the year, a decision President Barack Obama hailed as a "powerful example."

CVS said its 7,600 stores across the country will cease tobacco sales by October 1, despite the projected $2 billion loss the move will entail.

"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 Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark.

"Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose," he said.

The announcement makes CVS the first national US pharmacy chain to take such dramatic action to discourage smoking, although some other major retailers like Target have already stopped cigarette sales.

CVS said the decision is likely to cause the company to "lose approximately $2 billion in revenues on an annual basis from the tobacco shopper."

Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States, killing nearly half a million Americans each year, health experts say.

Some 18 percent of Americans smoke, down from 42 percent in the 1960s.

The Obama administration recently stepped up efforts to discourage youths from smoking via a new national advertising campaign.

Obama, who has been known to smoke in the past, issued a statement applauding the CVS move.

"As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example," he said.

"Today's 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."

Obama said business leaders at CVS "helped make a choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country."

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has reportedly been a major influence in helping her husband kick the habit, also thanked CVS.

"Now we can all breathe a little easier, and our families can live healthier," she tweeted.

Just last month, the United States marked the 50th anniversary of the first surgeon general's report to warn that smoking caused lung cancer.

Since then, the habit has been attributed to 13 kinds of cancer and a host of other diseases, including liver and colon cancer, blindness and diabetes.

Health experts have long questioned the practice by retail pharmacies of offering remedies aimed at improving health, while at the same selling cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco products.

"This is primarily a US problem: pharmacies in other developed countries do not sell cigarettes," wrote Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer of CVS Caremark and Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco, in an editorial Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes," they added.

"But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain."

The leading US doctors' group also welcomed the CVS decision.

"We commend CVS for putting public health ahead of their bottom line," said a statement from the American Medical Association.

"We are hopeful that CVS' decision to end the sale of tobacco products will spur other pharmacies to follow suit."

Walgreens, the largest US drugstore chain, said it is "continuing to evaluate the choice of products our customers want."

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