CVS Tobacco Ban Contributes to Common Good


Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company. The sale of tobacco is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health…Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered.

– CVS Caremark website

You know you’re doing something right when the legal cartel otherwise known as Big Tobacco hates on you – and two dozen attorneys general think you’re the bomb. This very public dichotomy of opinion is CVS Caremark’s new normal two months after the announcement it will pull smokes and dip from its shelves effective Oct. 1.

Big-name tobacco lobbyists have of course been venting their corporate spleen over what they claim is infringement upon personal choice and the free market – a strategy similar to the one employed against Target when in 1996 it pioneered large-retailer tobacco bans. And CVS’ more vociferous pro-tobacco opponents have assailed the company for making more of the $2 billion per annum in lost sales than is warranted. They compare the sum to CVS’ robust $126.8 billion in 2013 net revenue and accuse the company of grandstanding for the sake of increased sales. While the professional tobacconists probably have it right about CVS’ plan to combine good public policy with good retailing, the nation’s second-largest drug store chain has also upped the ante for other tobacco retailers.

Fortunately, CVS’ cause was taken up by a handful of elected officials who seized the moment. Within weeks of the announcement, 28 attorneys general from 24 states, three US territories and the District of Columbia had weighed in. Led by Ohio’s Mike DeWine and New York’s Eric Schneiderman, the attorneys general crafted a letter to five major retailers still selling tobacco products – Walgreen, Walmart, Kroger, Safeway and Rite Aid – urging them to follow CVS’ example. Citing sobering government statistics on mortality, lost productivity and health care costs, the letter implored the retailers to assume greater responsibility for the products they sell: “”There is a contradiction in having these dangerous and devastating tobacco products on the shelves of a retail chain that services healthcare needs…The availability of such products in a retail store that also serves as a pharmacy normalizes tobacco use.”

President Obama likewise praised CVS’ decision, drawing criticism from the usual conservative media suspects. Putting forth perhaps the most ironic of the many patently ironic responses to CVS’ decision, Fox Business commentator Melissa Francis slammed the president for meddling in corporate matters – then proceeded to skewer CVS for exercising its right to stock its shelves as it sees fit. Logic-defying Fox rants aside, it’s not every day thinking Americans can praise a major corporation for enacting policies that serve the common good. While CVS is a highly flawed model for what responsible corporate citizenship should look like, no one can deny its contribution toward a smoke-free America.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2014

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