- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A network of Rhode Island anti-tobacco organizations and state health officials Wednesday praised the decision of Woonsocket-based CVS Caremark to phase out tobacco sales at its more than 7,600 drugstores nationwide.

Tobacco Free Rhode Island called the move a major milestone on the road to significantly reducing the smoking rate in the U.S.

The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain said Wednesday it will end sales of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco by Oct. 1 as it focuses more on providing health care.

Rhode Island’s health department director, Dr. Michael Fine, said reducing access to tobacco is the best way to cut smoking.

“This may be the biggest advance in smoking cessation since the tobacco settlement in 1998, and we should be proud that a Rhode Island company is leading the way,” he said in a statement.

In a later conference call with reporters, Fine said the department wants to work with CVS Caremark to provide smoking cessation services.

“We just want to make sure we can help and support them in any way we can,” he said. “The most important next step is for others to get on board and other retailers to eliminate tobacco from their shelves so that they put their customers’ health first.”

Sixteen percent of adults and 11 percent of young people in Rhode Island smoke, according to the department. Smoking-related illness causes the death of 1,600 adults in the state each year. The annual health costs associated with smoking are $506 million a year in Rhode Island.

Members of the state’s congressional delegation also commended CVS Caremark, which said cutting out tobacco sales will cost about $2 billion in annual revenue.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat, said CVS Caremark understands that tobacco use and public health don’t mix. U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, also a Democrat, called the move bold and said CVS Caremark is “blazing the trail” for other companies.

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