CVS and Tobacco draft

by Rose Allocca on February 21, 2014

On February 5th, CVS CEO Larry Merlo announced that CVS stores would stop selling tobacco products by October 1st. This major decision has implications for both smokers and non-smokers. This decision also without doubt puts pressure on other national pharmacies like Rite Aid and Walgreens to consider their role in communities as health care providers. Merlo stated that making tobacco products available in the same store where people seek medical advice and prescriptions was an “absolute contradiction.” The CEO also brought up the some newly revised statistics from the Surgeon General. He believes “continuing to sell cigarettes, which the Surgeon General blames for 480,000 deaths every year from heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke, was anathema to CVS’ long-term plan to become a central player in the U.S. health care system.”

This choice made by CVS is not the first of its kind. Many changes in legislature and different bans have been put in placed in order to reduce the use of tobacco. Smoking bans in designated areas have been implemented, but these types of interventions are local and can vary wildly from county to county and state to state. Although laws vary by location, the detrimental effects of smoking tobacco are a national issue. On the US Department of Health and Human Services site the Surgeon General reports:

“The chemicals and toxicants in tobacco smoke damage DNA, which can lead to cancer. Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths every year are directly linked to smoking. Smoking causes about 85% of lung cancers in the U.S.”

I think Merlo’s announcement is especially exemplary because the decision of a corporation is going to affect the nation for the better. CVS was not mandated by the government to reduce the sales of tobacco; it was an independent determination. Although the CVS will lose revenue, they have demonstrated that they are more concerned with the incongruous nature of selling tobacco products in medical environment. They are willing to make a commitment to a certain philosophy that can gain more respect from regular people.

People who do not smoke may not think that this will impact their lives. However, the exposure to second-hand smoke will be lessened. Unfortunately, abstaining from smoking alone does not completely guarantee that one will not get cancer (or any other tobacco smoke related disease). So it is best for everyone, non-smokers included, for tobacco products to be more difficult to obtain. Also with cigarettes less readily available, it will be a little more difficult and more of an inconvenience for people to start smoking. Prevention is not always palpable or easily quantifiable, but with dangerous habits like smoking, it is the most important way to deal it.

I understand that what CVS has decided to do will not single-handedly end smoking in the US. Smoking’s contribution to cancer, cardiac disease, high blood pressure, and stroke is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires many interventions and changes in lifestyle and habits. However, Merlo’s announcement hopefully will have social ramifications that may encourage other institutions (that can afford) to follow suite. It will be interesting to see what sorts of changes will come in the next 5, 10, 20 years following the CVS decision.


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