CVS will stop selling cigarettes and cigars nearly a month sooner than planned, a move that CEO Larry Merlo on Wednesday defended as sharpening its focus on customer health, even though it will ultimately cost the nation's second-largest drugstore chain billions in annual sales.
"The fact that, you know, we're delivering health care in a retail environment and at the same time, selling tobacco, that contradiction was growing for us," Merlo told "Squawk on the Street."
Though CVS announced earlier this year it would phase out tobacco sales, rivals Walgreen and Wal-Mart Stores have yet to follow suit. Target stopped selling cigarettes roughly 18 years ago, but CVS is the first drugstore chain to cease cigarette sales completely.
"We're very proud of the decision that we made. Somebody had to be first to make that decision, and you know, we're proud to say that, you know, we were first in the interest of our customers, our patients," Merlo said. "We believe that, you know, it will help us play a bigger role in health-care delivery and our outlook for the future is bright."
Separately, Merlo said the company will tweak its corporate name. CVS Caremark will now be known as CVS Health, effective immediately. The signs on its roughly 7,700 drugstores won't change, so the change may not register with shoppers.