CVS Going Tobacco-Free
CVS pharmacies have announced that they’re no longer going to sell tobacco products, and they’re gettin’ some love:
“As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today’s decision 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,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday.
“This is an important, bold public health decision by a major retail pharmacy to act on the long understood reality that blending providing health care and providing cigarettes just doesn’t match,” said Dr. Richard Wender, chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society.
“We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to take tobacco products out of the hands of America’s young generation, and to help those who are addicted to quit,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “Today’s CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation. I hope others will follow their lead.”
This is expected to cost them approximately 2,000,000,000 in sales a year, wherebouts. The business angle is that they are trying to market themselves as a health retailer, an image that is mutually exclusive with the sale of tobacco (but not, presumably, candy).
Other pharmacies and grocery stores may also follow suit. It won’t be quite the watershed that some people hope, though, because pharmacies aren’t exactly the go-to place for cigarettes. I’m a bit surprised that they bring in that much revenue, but I suspect that it’s primarily a function of people buying a pack on their way out. Cigarettes are a relatively low-margin item. The go-to place for cigarettes are convenience stores. Which are almost universally more… uhmm… convenient than pharmacies.
I have long thought that if we wanted to make tobacco habits less convenient, getting them out of convenience stores ought to be the highest priority. Except that they’re so important to convenience stores that they’d almost certainly put a stop to it. Cigarettes are low-margin items, but for convenience stores they get people to come in the store. And while there, we often go and purchase other things. There is a reason that cigarette prices are so prominently displayed.
Even if successful, though, taking them out of convenience stores could backfire pretty badly. If made too inconvenient, I could easily see people drifting towards purchasing cigarettes by the carton instead of the pack. They’re cheaper that way, of course. The price difference is minimal, but if they’re inconvenient to buy and you are buying a bunch anyway, why not by a carton? The problem is that, in my experience, buying by the carton leads one to smoke more. That’s why I never have. Getting them one or two at a time means you have to be more cognizant of how much you are smoking. But tobacco stores close early, oftentimes, and if I were still smoking I would be buying multiple packs at once to prevent myself from being out of them when the tobacco store closes.
I sometimes think that cigarettes being sold by the pack may also have that effect. If you’re buying twenty cigarettes at a time, it’s harder to ween yourself off of them. Either you’re throwing cigarettes away or you’re smoking up to 19 more than you really intended to. If you’re good, you’re spacing them out over longer periods. But if you’re addicted, you’re probably not good.
On the other hand, the ubiquitous availability of them makes quitting harder. So I could see it going either way.