Wednesday, February 5, 2014

CVS Abandons Tobacco and Reason

Tobacco control advocates have for years pressured pharmacies to stop selling tobacco.  Today, CVS, the nation’s second largest drugstore chain, announced it will end all tobacco product sales on October 1 (here). 

I respect the decision by CVS to stop selling cigarettes.  It is immeasurably preferable to the actions of cities like San Francisco and Boston, which have banned tobacco sales in pharmacies.  Retailers should have the right to determine which products will meet their customers’ needs while satisfying their investors’ interests.  It’s perfectly appropriate for a firm to drop a product in long-term decline (but still generating $2 billion in sales) in the interest of promoting public health.  As CVS CEO Larry Merlo put it: “We've come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered.” 

But why stop selling smokeless tobacco, and why not offer e-cigarettes?  These products are effective harm reduction alternatives for current smokers, and sales of both are increasing.  The CVS decision is not simply about health or profits, but rather, about joining a moral crusade that is hooked exclusively on the promotion of pharmaceutical nicotine. (CVS is suggesting that those products may get more exposure at the checkout counter.) 

If CVS embraced this thinking storewide, it would yield to abstinence-only advocates and stop selling condoms, promoting penicillin sales instead. That would be one more win for Big Pharma, and another loss for rational and science-based policies.

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