Two Cheers for CVS's Decision to Stop Selling Cigarettes

So the drugstore chain CVS is giving up on smokes. As Reason 24/7 reported earlier today:

CVS Caremark pharmacies will phase out tobacco in U.S. retail stores by Oct. 1, officials announced Wednesday, saying that selling cigarettes side-by-side with medicine undermines the mission of promoting good health.

The chain will lose about $2 billion in revenues annually from sales of tobacco in its 7,600 stores, but CVS Pharmacy president Helena Foulkes said it just makes sense for a firm now positioning itself as a health care company. 

The company's president Helena Foulkes explains:

“It was very important to us that, as we’re working with doctors and hospital systems and health plans, that they see us as an extension of their services,” Foulkes said. “It’s virtually impossible to be in the tobacco business when you want to be a health care partner to the health care system.”

Read more here.

I think it's great whenever a business takes steps to implement its vision of social purpose. For sure, there are real questions about just how health-conscious CVS really is. "Good," explains a fake interviewee in The Onion. "I don’t want cigarettes sold in the same place I get my flu shot, Red Bull, and mini-donuts.”

The freedom to sell what you want - or not - is a marvelous thing and should be applauded whenever it's exercised. I have no idea whether it's a good idea from a stockholder point of view, or even from a customer point of view. I only hope that right-wingers and left-wingers recognize that choice - for the business owner, the customer, the employee - is key. We should all be allowed to do more things than the government currently allows. And to bear the costs of those decisions, including negative (or positive) feedback about those choices. Restaurants should be allowed to permit smoking if they want, for instance, or ban it. Photographers should be allowed to decline offers to cover marriages of which they don't approve. Homeowner associations should be allowed to enforce all sorts of stupid rules and townfolk should be allowed to grow front-yard gardens on their own damn property.

The point is that we should let people make more decisions about their lives, their loves, and their businesses. And live with their consequences.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Just because I respect their right to do so doesn't mean I have to cheer it.

    And the sentiment they are expressing is chilling:

    “This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes,” CVS medical officer Dr. Troyen Brennan wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain.”

    And even more chilling when the most powerful person in the world is getting in on the action:

    President Barack Obama, a former smoker who tried for years to stop, immediately praised CVS, saying in a statement that their powerful example "will help advance my Administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs — ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come."
  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Agreed. I have a hard time believing they're giving up $2B of annual revenue purely as a result of some social vision, especially since it's hard to see how this makes it less likely that smokers will buy cigs.

    On Bloomberg this morning they were speculating this was because the company wants to slowly move away from being a retailer (not a great biz to be in these days) and toward being a health care provider. If that's the case, they may be trying to score points with their future regulators in the latter sphere.

    It's getting damn hard to disentangle private businesses' free choices from their subtly-compelled ones.

  • ||

    especially since it's hard to see how this makes it less likely that smokers will buy cigs.

    I mean no shit (and thank god for that, they will be wrong). So what if Walgreens follows suit, do people really think gas stations are going to stop selling them?

  • Sevo||

    ..."It's getting damn hard to disentangle private businesses' free choices from their subtly-compelled ones."

    Especially when the compelling issue might be some reporting requirements that make selling X un-profitable.

  • Killaz||

    ++ Exactly on the money as to my own suspicions and concerns, Tulpa.

  • JD the elder||

    I have a hard time believing they're giving up $2B of annual revenue purely as a result of some social vision

    They're not, though; not really:

    CVS Caremark also says, "The company estimates that it will lose approximately $2 billion in revenues on an annual basis from the tobacco shopper... The company has identified incremental opportunities that are expected to offset the profitability impact.

    i.e., "We won't get the $2 billion from tobacco sales, but we'll get it from somewhere else."

  • ||

    The CVS in the shopping center next to me has a clinic that is allegedly staffed by a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner that can do simple tasks like give flu shots, draw blood for A1C tests, look at rashes, remove stitches, basic physical exams, etc

    It's interesting the picture with this article is pointing at the candy aisle. That's next. Then the beer and potato chips and ice cream and soda and...

  • Marshall Gill||

    President Barack Obama, a former smoker who tried for years to stop

    Former? I know that he used to smoke and now it is not mentioned. This is not the same as quitting. Did I miss the parade where he put them down for the last time?

  • ||

    Well at this point it seems rather improbable that nobody has snapped a photo of him smoking since that hubub when he was running (or was it shortly after being elected?). At a minimum he must of toned it down a lot.

    He's still a hypocrite though.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    It's a felony to approach the president when he doesn't want you to, so he doesn't need to worry about paparottsie snapping pix of him unawares.

  • wwhorton||

    Improbable? This is the most closed-off administration in recent memory. The Nixon White House was more open to the press. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that there was some body-double hired to hang around and look busy while the real Obama ducked around the corner for a quick smoke.

  • Bobarian||

    Well he's so transparent, he's fucking invisible, so how are you gonna see him do it?

  • TheZeitgeist||

    The Nixon White House was more open to the press.

    The Nixon White House was more open to the press, but that press was a lot more hostile to him, yet at the same time in aggregate there was far less of any self-identifying 'press' back then.

    Nixon did get away with all kinds of stuff of an imbibing nature, the guy drank a lot for his crutch.

    For instance during Apollo 13's fraught-filled landing Nixon got so bombed he needed help back not to the White House, but ye Old Executive Office building where he could sleep it off on a couch, hiding from among others (I'm sure) his own wife.

  • ||

    “But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain.”

    IDK, between legal marijuana, e-cigarettes, and energy drinks who cares about tobacco and drug stores?

    OMG, they're shutting down their horse-drawn carriage services as well! Amish people everywhere will be forced to adopt cars, walk, or park their carriages across the street at the liquor store or gas station, possibly even at the nearest head shop or discount tobacco den down the street!

  • Pelosi's Rabbit||

    Agreed. I immediately suspected it wasn't "freedom to sell what you want" but was more just an extension of the nanny state mentality.

  • ||

    There he goes again.

    /rips one.

  • ~Knarf Yenrab~||

    “But if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain.”

    If other gas stations stop selling candy bars, America will become slimmer! There may be a reason why Dr. Brennan is a CVS medical officer rather than its CEO, as he doesn't appear to understand how markets or consumer preferences work.

    When millions of people want to buy X, they're going to get their X, one way or another.

  • ||

    The prohibitionists dilemma: People still want their vices despite my good advice! Aaaaaarrrgghhhh!

  • scareduck||

    Yeah, I looked at the in-the-same-story quote from Barack Obama and had to wonder whether this wasn't orchestrated by the White House in exchange for some other palm greasing.

  • ||

    Wait...

    That is the Onion opinion lady!!!!

  • scareduck||

    You Must Be New Here.

  • playa manhattan||

    They're still going to sell beer, right?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    The Bloomberg talking heads were speculating that next up is de-stocking junk food and soda.

  • Herpes Trismegistus||

    Get rid of all that and they can downsize their stores to Fotomat booths.

  • montana mike||

    Boom

  • ||

    So when are they going to stop selling homeopathic "medicines" and herbal "supplements"?

  • Sevo||

    Those aren't regulated, so they probably remain profitable.

  • ||

    So the Onion lady is right. Thought so.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    You can take my penis enlargement pills from my cold, dead, sticky hands.

  • XM||

    I have a large heart, that's what the ladies actually want.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Those cigarette taxes go to pay for childrens health initiatives and in some states those taxes go to education as well. WONT SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Why does CVS hate children.

    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3053106/

  • CE||

    Cigarette smoking also helps keep Social Security financial obligations somewhat less catastrophic, since it kills off a lot of recipients early. Did CVS consider that? Don't they care about the future economic health of America? Don't they know children will suffer the most in a depression?

  • Killaz||

    Maybe they are secret Ancap Supervillians working to push us over the edge.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    *sings* "AnCap Supervillains to the Rescue"

    Thank you, citizen! Don't know what we would have done if you hadn't signaled for us! Supervillains, HO!

    (~_^)

  • Christophe||

    Where's your monocle?

    (o_^)
    |
    |

  • ||

    It's pretty well understood that nicotine is an appetite suppressant and one of the consequences of quitting smoking is weight gain. Make people quit smoking and they get fat - who could have seen that coming?

  • wwhorton||

    And this is why I prefer the Rite-Aid down the street. Conveniently located next to a liquor store, and one block up from the Royal Farms. It's an embarrassment of riches, choice-wise!

    Seriously, though, it has always surprised me how many things that aren't drugs are sold in drug stores. Of course, it's been that way since the 'teens, hasn't it?

  • montana mike||

    Rite Aid when I was working in Nor Cal had great deals on booze. It always struck me as weird when everything Cal does is fucked up, that their vices were cheaper than states like OR, WA, ID, and MT where it's state controlled...oh wait.

  • statesidemonk||

    The company also plans combine the candy and dental aisles.

  • gimmeasammich||

    "It tastes great on a cracker!"

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=f0e_1351008329

  • LarryA||

    “It’s virtually impossible to be in the tobacco business when you want to be a health care partner to the health care system.”

    Well, unless you're working with all the nurses and EMTs who smoke.

    I'd be a lot more impressed if they were swapping tobacco for e-cigs.

  • ||

    "I have no idea whether it's a good idea from a stockholder point of view..."

    Apparently it will cost them $2 billion in revenues. Knock off $2 billion and shareholders will notice; like gangsters notice when someone is skimming.

    I should think it has to have an impact one way or another on the stock.

  • playa manhattan||

    I'm looking into shorting right now.

  • ||

    I'd take a pass if I were considering investing in a stock. You don't make money on good intentions. You make money on sales that become earnings and then profits.

  • CE||

    And it's not just the 2 bills lost tobacco revenue. It's the 5 bills more the smokers won't be spending there on impulse purchases.

  • ||

    $5 billion more?

    Wow.

    Where did you read that?

  • wareagle||

    these people just can't help themselves. It's not what CVS, it is the lionization of the decision.

  • durron597||

    Nick, I hope you read this comment. This article is absurd. CVS is not doing it because they are making a feel good wishy washy decision; they are doing it because they are trying to make the administration like them for their minuteclinic business.

    They have the potential to make a LOT more money with government dollars flowing in than they do in Tobacco sales. Consider how quickly the White House was able to respond to this. This is a political move to improve CVS's crony capitalism stature, nothing more.

    If the ACA gets repealed, see how long this tobacco ban lasts. Why don't they start phasing tobacco out tomorrow? They're waiting until October because if the GOP wins the Senate, there's no chance of them following through on this.

  • Another David||

    October is when they're planning to finish the phase-out, not start it. You can't disentangle yourself from a whole set of products like that overnight, it'd be a logistical nightmare. And I'm sure their vendors are pissed enough about the cut as it is; if they tried to make an overnight break they would lose a ton of trust among their other suppliers.

  • durron597||

    Okay, I misread that part of it. But that doesn't mean it's not a crony capitalist ploy.

  • Brandybuck||

    Homeowner associations should be allowed to enforce all sorts of stupid rules


    Darth Vader and Lando Calrisian enter into a contractual arrangement. Darth then tells Lando he has changed the terms of the arrangement. Is this voluntary? You read the Facebook terms and conditions, and agree to them. Later Facebook changes its terms and conditions but does not tell you about it. Is this voluntary? You buy a house in a neighborhood, after reading through the CC&Rs; (which are requirement by the government) and agreeing to them. Later a new set of busybodies gets elected to the HOA and impose new rules on you. Is this voluntary?

  • Christophe||

    Depends on whether the original arangement allowed for unilateral changes by one party.

  • Bill J Killroy||

    Fair comment. But. I fear the decision was based more on the sorts of influences that free market advocates oppose, and less on the sort of thinking that Nick supports in this piece.

  • jcp370||

    And isn't it nice that my Obamacare health plan prohibits me from filling my prescriptions at Rite Aid or Walgreens. The only national drug store chain that I can use is CVS. It's right there in the Bronze plan description summary so there's no misunderstanding:
    http://www.ibx4you.com/health_.....plans.html

    Isn't life grand when it works out this way? CVS does something that the Administration cheers on and by sheer coincidence they get to be the only national drug store on some Obamacare plans. I'm so pleased I could bust a gut! Let's hold hands and skip along the path to Valhalla!

  • wilson_w27||

    my friend's sister-in-law makes an hour on the laptop . She has been fired for five months but last month her pay was just working on the laptop for a few hours. you could try this out.......
    http://www.Jobs84.com

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    I'm not a smoker and not i'm not cheering their decision to stop selling cigarettes but I also don't see it as a conspiracy. If I opened a shop I probably wouldn't want to sell cigarettes because at least 90% of the tobacco industry backs the drug war. If there's a tobacco company that does not support the drug war and supports the legalization of recreational marijuana use (both are mandatory) then I would sell their products.

  • umh||

    Walgreen's is across the street. Why wait start shopping somewhere else today.

  • XM||

    2 billion isn't exactly pocket change. And I can get my drugs at Walmart and Target. I hear they may transition to e-cigs, but I imagine that's available elsewhere.

    Should we cheer a risky move that might cost American jobs? I didn't even know CVS even sold cigs.

  • GroundTruth||

    Don't forget that the People's Republic of Taxachusetts has banned the sale of all tobacco products in any place that fills prescription, so in this state, it's just PR.

  • Peter||

    I applaud the move simply for the tax revenue they will be denying the state.

  • cheap kits||

    Those cigarette taxes go to pay for childrens health initiatives and in some states those taxes go to education as well. It's very kind of this thought

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement