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”):
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.”