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CVS changes name, stops tobacco sales early

As CVS sharpens its focus on customer health, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain will tweak its corporate name and stop the sale of tobacco nearly a month sooner than planned.

CVS Caremark said it will now be known as CVS Health, effective immediately. The signs on its roughly 7,700 drugstores won’t change, so the tweak may not register with shoppers.

However, those customers will see a big change when they check out. The cigars and cigarettes that used to fill the shelves behind store cash registers have been replaced with nicotine gum and other products that help people kick the tobacco habit. CVS said earlier this year that it would stop selling tobacco products on Oct. 1.

CVS and other drugstores have delved deeper into customer health care in recent years, in part to serve the aging Baby Boom generation and the millions of uninsured people who are expected to gain coverage under the federal health care overhaul. They’ve built hundreds of walk-in clinics in their stores and have steadily expanded the services they provide.

Drugstores now offer an array of vaccinations and flu shots, and their clinics can help monitor chronic illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure. CVS said its new name reflects its broader commitment to health care.

“We’re doing more and more to extend the front lines of health care,” CEO Larry Merlo said.

As part of this push, the drugstore chain announced earlier this year that it would phase out tobacco sales.

The company said it could no longer sell tobacco in a setting where health care is delivered, and the presence of that product was hard to justify when it tried teaming up with hospital groups and doctors to help with patient care.

Merlo said the company moved up its quit date nearly a month because they got ready for the move sooner than they anticipated, not because its distribution centers had already run out of tobacco.

The corporate name change represents an improvement because the average person didn’t understand the word Caremark, which represents the company’s pharmacy benefits management business, said Laura Ries, president of the brand consulting firm Ries & Ries.

The new name may provide a better sense of what CVS does to the few investors or people on Wall Street who don’t know about the company, which is ranked 12th in the 2014 Fortune 500.

But Ries said the name’s power is limited because health is a generic word that is common in many company names.

“It’s an improvement off of Caremark, but it’s not some amazing wonderful thing that will change the world,” she said.

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