If you’re looking to light up, skip your local CVS. The pharmacy chain is the first to ban sales of cigarettes and tobacco products at its U.S. stores, a move that could cost the company up to $2 billion in annual revenue.
The decision came after years of pressure from groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Pharmacists Association, which noted pharmacy chains’ hypocrisy in dispensing prescriptions to improve health–including smoking-cessation products–alongside cigarettes, which have been linked to lung disease, diabetes, heart conditions and high blood pressure. For CVS, the issue became more glaring as it focused on health care through its Minute Clinics. “The question we get from health care providers is, How serious are you about health?” says Troy Brennan, chief medical officer at CVS Caremark. “This decision indicates exactly how serious we are.”
All tobacco-related products will be out of CVS’s 7,600 U.S. stores by Oct. 1. It’s not clear how CVS will recoup the lost income, which amounts to 3% of its annual revenue, or what role e-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco but provide a nicotine hit, will play in the chain’s future, since the FDA has yet to regulate the battery-powered cigarette substitutes.
While one company’s decision is unlikely to persuade the 42 million smokers in the U.S. to kick the habit, health experts can only hope it’s one more step toward making tobacco less accessible and less acceptable.
This appears in the February 17, 2014 issue of TIME.