Skip to main content

CVS's bold move to end tobacco sales

By Robin Koval
updated 2:25 PM EST, Thu February 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CVS/Caremark announced that it will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products
  • Robin Koval: This is a bold and socially conscious move that helps customers
  • She say more pharmacies want to serve as trusted health care providers
  • Koval: It makes no sense to be health provider while selling harmful tobacco products

Editor's note: Robin Koval is president and CEO of Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing teen smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.

(CNN) -- The iconic image of the neighborhood drugstore and wise and friendly pharmacist were once part of the American social fabric. The local pharmacy was where we went to pursue romance over an ice cream soda, share gossip with members of our community or acquire our most basic supplies. Pharmacists were our friends, our neighbors and those we looked to for help and aid.

But increasingly, as the local pharmacy transformed into the large chain drug store, the analgesics and advice were joined by something quite different and deadly: tobacco products.

Along with medicines, greeting cards and cosmetics, large retailers and pharmacies like Walmart, Rite Aid and Walgreens sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, despite the fact that we know they are harmful.

Robin Koval
Robin Koval

But on Wednesday, CVS/Caremark stepped up and declared loud and clear: Cigarettes and health care cannot and should not coexist under the same roof.

We applaud CVS for taking the bold and socially conscious step to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products effective October 1. More than 7,600 CVS stores across the nation will no longer sell these products -- impacting thousands of customers across the country and helping to promote longer, healthier lives.

Despite intense competition in the industry, CVS had the vision and the conviction to do what is right for its customers. Each year in our country, more than 480,000 Americans lose their lives to tobacco-related diseases, including heart disease, cancers, emphysema and stroke. Tobacco use also takes a huge toll on our economy, from lost productivity to the medical care costs of treating sick smokers.

But tobacco-related disease is wholly preventable. Proven tactics such as raising the price of tobacco products, clean indoor air laws, and effective public education campaigns can help drive smoking rates down. For years, these have been the tools of government and nonprofit organizations like Legacy Foundation.

CVS brought a critical additional tool to bear -- limiting access to tobacco -- and issued a clarion call for retailers to join the fight to change the culture around tobacco use to make it less socially acceptable. Removing tobacco products from pharmacy shelves -- where they are often both an eye-level temptation for youth who are open to smoking and a trigger for smokers struggling to quit -- will help foster positive changes in our attitudes toward smoking. We challenge other large retailers to take the same step and put their customers' health and well-being ahead of their profit margins.

CVS's decision shows that the for-profit sector can truly do good. Increasingly, America's pharmacies are positioning themselves as health care providers. Instead of a traditional visit to a doctor's office, many people may now visit their pharmacy -- like CVS's Minute Clinic -- for a quick assessment or diagnosis or to receive an on-the-spot prescription for whatever ails.

To be seen as trusted health care providers, pharmacies must reconcile the inherent contradiction of offering those services while also selling lethal tobacco products to those very same customers. Providing medical services in one part of the store while offering harmful products at the cash register is a paradox that couldn't be clearer. CVS recognized that to be a true leader, you have to not only talk the talk but walk the walk.

In a business climate with brutal competition and the persistent pressure to deliver short-term results, estimates are that this move by CVS could cost the nation's second largest drugstore chain about $2 billion in annual sales. But smart businesses look toward the big picture. By taking tobacco products off its shelves, CVS has an immediate opportunity to introduce other -- potentially profitable -- product lines to its customer base.

With a new commitment to offering customers healthier choices, it has a longer-term opportunity to foster relationships with health care providers and medical staff -- all synched with CVS's vision to be a trusted neighborhood resource for short-term care. And CVS's act of social responsibility also has the potential to deepen existing customer relationships.

Already, anecdotally, I've heard colleagues and friends who have been affected firsthand by the issue of tobacco use or lost a loved one to tobacco-related disease say to me, "CVS is now my pharmacy for life" -- based on the action it took this week.

For that, the public health community and the chain's customers are cheering. We hope its peers quickly follow suit. Once they do, we will likely reach our bold goal to reduce smoking prevalence in the U.S. to under 10% in the next 10 years.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robin Koval.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT