CVS Tobacco Ban: Money Over Morality Over Money

Drugstore chain CVS/Caremark is garnering praise for its decision to stop selling tobacco products –“yet another sign of its metamorphosis into becoming more of a healthcare provider than a largely retail business,” as the New York Times (2/5/14) described it. “We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where healthcare is being delivered,” CEO Larry Merlo declared to AP (2/5/14).

Headlines like “CVS Tobacco Ban: Why It’s Sacrificing $2 Billion in Sales” (Christian Science Monitor, 2/5/14) stress what the company stands to lose. The Washington Post (2/5/14) quotes a policy advocate: “CVS taking this step is a giant leap forward. From a purely commercial standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense.”

There’s no need to detract from the positive health impacts of the decision. But while coverage suggests a tale of corporate “vision,” or even morality over moneymaking, it might be worth wedging in among the accolades an acknowledgement that CVS has other reasons to encourage consumers to think of it as pharmacy first (or, as a rep told USA Today, “as an alternative to the doctor’s office”):


Consumer Reports drug price chart

In 2013, Consumer Reports revealed that CVS charged among the industry’s highest retail prices, including enormous markups on generic drugs.


Maybe when you’re selling drugs for more than four or five times what some of your for-profit competitors are charging, you can afford to “sacrifice.”

About Janine Jackson

Program Director and Co-producer of CounterSpin
Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s (Westview Press). She has appeared on ABC's Nightline and CNN Headline News, among other outlets, and has testified to the Senate Communications Subcommittee on budget reauthorization for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her articles have appeared in various publications, including In These Times and the UAW’s Solidarity, and in books including Civil Rights Since 1787 (New York University Press) and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library). Jackson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an M.A. in sociology from the New School for Social Research.