CVS wrestles with cigarette sales

NEW YORK Wed Nov 14, 2007 6:39pm EST

Thomas Ryan, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CVS/Caremark Inc. speaks at the the Reuters Health Summit in New York, November 14, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Thomas Ryan, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CVS/Caremark Inc. speaks at the the Reuters Health Summit in New York, November 14, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - CVS Caremark Corp (CVS.N), which is one of the world's largest dispensers of prescription medicines and treats thousands of patients at its in-store clinics, is struggling with its contribution to a major health problem: the sale of cigarettes.

CVS Chief Executive Thomas Ryan said on Wednesday his company was considering some day halting the sale of the products responsible for the single most preventable cause of death in the nation and one of the biggest contributors to soaring health care costs.

"It is a conflict," acknowledged Ryan.

"We have a vision in our company to strive to improve human life and it is a challenge around cigarettes," Ryan said at the Reuters Health Summit in New York.

"It's a big number from a dollar standpoint. It's a big number from an ancillary sales standpoint," he said of cigarette sales and the other business they bring in.

"But it's something we wrestle with. We've had internal battles and discussions. I wouldn't rule it out at some point down the road," he said of halting sale of the cancer and heart disease-causing products at its drug stores.

"We don't promote them," he said.

Ryan said consumer research done by CVS showed it was unlikely people would change their shopping patterns to reward CVS for taking the moral high ground on cigarette sales.

He said CVS stores do take measures to keep cigarettes out of the hands of minors, with strict standards at its registers. "That doesn't mean that it doesn't happen with 190,000 people employed and a lot of part timers, and they get peer pressure," he said.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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