Last week, CVS Caremark announced it will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products in its stores by October. The chain estimates it will lose more than $2 billion in revenue from tobacco users annually.
That’s a huge loss for the sake of keeping people healthy.
But according to CVS CEO Larry Merlo, the monetary loss does not mean it wasn’t the right decision.
“Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” he said in a statement.
Taking a drastic action in the name of what you believe in is an honorable move (if not brilliant PR strategy). But does being a healthier company mean it should also stop selling alcohol? Sugar? Saturated fats? Or any of the numerous vices that people will buy regardless of the consequences to their health?
Making a product unavailable doesn’t stop consumers from buying it. When the U.S. ratified the 18th amendment in 1920, it prohibited the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol. But it didn’t successfully stop people from drinking alcohol. It actually just increased the number of closet drinkers and average citizens who were breaking the law.
Granted, the 1920 U.S. government wasn’t a pharmacy chain that wanted to promote good health. And CVS’s decision wasn’t necessarily intended to stop smoking everywhere. But when it comes to addictive substances, whether it’s nicotine or Diet Coke, healthy choices have to be made out of one’s sheer will and self-discipline. An inconvenient unavailability isn’t enough to hold off a serious addiction for long.
Whatever it is we need to cut back on, the government can’t do it for us. Neither can CVS or any pharmacy that follows in its footsteps. They will try. They’ve made plenty of substances illegal, and some states have even tried to regulate our soda cup sizes. But that’s why drug cartels and McDonald’s alike are profiting from our cravings. Because when it’s truly an addiction, we will always find a way to feed it.
And for all you cancer stick lovers out there, thankfully they opened that new Walgreen’s on Judge Ely last year.