No cigarettes for Caremark

CVS Caremark announced the company would no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in their pharmacies, beginning in October. The news quickly sparked national responses and coverage, especially in light of President Obama’s praise of the company’s new policy.

While also aiming to inform the public, the majority of the news coverage of CVS’s decision has been to discuss the economic impact it will have on the company’s annual revenue, the tobacco industry, the healthcare industry and American citizens.

CVS Caremark Chief Executive Larry J. Merlo explained the company’s new policy: “We’ve come to the decision that cigarettes have no place in an environment where healthcare is being delivered.”

According to the New York Times, this move is in alignment with the company’s recent shift to become more focused on healthcare than it is on providing convenience store-style goods to customers. As Forbes reported, “CVS wants to help the chronically ill better manage their conditions and to help the healthy become healthier.”

Various news outlets have pointed out that the goal of CVS is to stick to their brand and promote health and wellness, so the move to dump tobacco from its shelves is healthy for customers as well as for long-term business. At a time when many Americans are concerned with healthcare, the public response has been highly favorable.

I am glad that CVS has decided to stop selling tobacco products. It is a smart move for their business and for Americans.

As many sources have reported, the removal of tobacco products will cost the company an estimated $2 billion in annual sales out of their total $125 billion. However, the move to stop selling cigarettes could dramatically help cut healthcare costs if it helps more people quit smoking. Smoking is the “leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” according to the Surgeon General, Dr. Boris D. Lushniak.

“More than 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking,” said a new report at the Surgeon General’s government website. That means one in 20 Americans suffer from a smoking-related disease. According to the Surgeon General, this has led to annual “direct medical costs of at least $130 billion.”

So what do all these numbers mean? To put it simply, if more Americans stopped smoking, we would have an overall healthier population, much lower rates of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses. And, perhaps most importantly to many Americans, healthcare costs would go down. Imagine if the $130 billion per year spent on the preventable diseases associated with smoking could be used for diseases that cannot be prevented; how much more progress could be achieved in the medical field?

In addition to no longer selling tobacco products, CVS is also launching a new smoking cessation program. According to the New York Times, the program will begin this spring with the hope of getting half a million Americans to quit smoking.

While national smoking cessation campaigns and efforts have been going on for decades, the National Public Radio reported that smoking is still responsible for 480,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Walgreens and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration are stepping up their programs, with the FDA targeting prevention among youth through the use of social media ads.

It will be interesting to see if, as some reporters have speculated, other stores containing pharmacies like Walgreens and Wal-Mart will follow CVS and stop selling tobacco products. It was smart for the coverage to include these other leading stores, as it puts the spotlight on them and increases the pressure to serve the American public in a more ethical manner, which I support.

One must ask, though: Will these changes really affect smokers, or will smokers just buy their cigarettes somewhere else? Will the change lead to the eventual illegalization of tobacco?

These questions are reasonable, if a bit premature, and I would have liked to see some of them addressed in the news I have read.

Overall, the decision by CVS has been timely, well-covered and well-promoted by leading news outlets. I think it is too early to know all the implications of the change, but I do hope that Americans become healthier because of the policies CVS has initiated. According to Forbes.com, “150 million in the U.S. ages 18 and older have at least one chronic condition, with over 70 million having two.” This chronic issue has demanded America’s attention for some time is finally getting the coverage it deserves.