(Bloomberg) -- CVS Caremark Corp. halted sales of tobacco products almost a month ahead of schedule, started a smoking-cessation campaign, and changed its name to position itself as an advocate of better health.

CVS Health, as the company will now be called, said in February that it planned to end tobacco sales by Oct. 1 and become the first national pharmacy chain to do so. The stop-smoking program will combine resources from the company’s drugstores, clinics and pharmacy-benefits business to give people the information and tools needed to kick the habit.

The biggest U.S. seller of prescription drugs is redefining itself as a health-care provider and its initiative on tobacco was designed to help reduce the almost half a million deaths attributed to smoking each year in the U.S. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based company operates 7,700 drugstores, 900 walk-in medical clinics, and a pharmacy-benefits manager with almost 65 million members.

Also see: CVS pharmacies to promote health insurance exchanges

“By eliminating cigarettes and tobacco products from sale in our stores, we can make a difference in the health of all Americans,” chief executive officer Larry Merlo said in a statement. “Consumers are increasingly taking control of their own health and, through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners, we are helping people on their path to better health.”

In the last decade, the company has expanded in health care by opening about 800 in-store clinics nationwide with nurses and physician assistants who can diagnose and write prescriptions for minor illnesses.

In an essay published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association with Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, CVS Health chief medical officer Troyen Brennan said reducing cigarette availability is another step toward taking tobacco use out of the mainstream and making it less socially acceptable.

“The sale of tobacco in a retail pharmacy conflicts with the purpose of the health-care services delivered there,” Brennan said. “Even more important, there is evidence developing that indicates that removing tobacco products from retailers with pharmacies will lead to substantially lower rates of smoking with implications for reducing tobacco-related deaths.”

In December, CVS said it would become a partner this year with Dublin, Ohio-based drug distributor Cardinal Health Inc. to be the biggest source of generic medicines in the U.S. CVS acquired Caremark in 2007, creating the biggest mail-order and retail medicine provider in the U.S., after a three-month bidding war with Express Scripts Inc. Caremark at the time was the second-biggest manager of employee prescription-drug benefits.

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